The Mendoza Line

by Charles Parker on May 10, 2017

The Mendoza Line is a term referenced in baseball due to the poor hitting performance of Mario Mendoza. He played for the Pirates, and Mariners from 1974-1979, before becoming a Texas Ranger where his career ended in 1982. Mendoza had a career batting average of .215, but during many seasons his average consistently fluctuated around the .200 mark. He was a terrific defensive player, but one particular year George Brett started off poorly and his teammates told him that he needed to be careful or he would fall below the Mendoza Line. That comment/joke somehow made its way to Chris Berman with ESPN, and since then the term has meant the minimum batting average to still be considered a starting player no matter how good one plays defense.

The Texas Rangers as a team are hitting .217, which ironically is the just a couple of points away from the career batting average of Mario Mendoza.

In fact, only the Kansas City Royals have a worse average in all of MLB. The problem is that while Mendoza was a superior fielder, the Rangers also rank in the bottom third at #24 in fielding too. That partially explains why the Rangers have had such a poor start to the 2017 season.  The rest of the issues can be placed squarely on the bullpen.

There are only two players on the team batting above .250, but they have five players who are hitting below .215, and three of those below .200.

The team did figure out a way to win today. If the starting pitcher throws a complete game, there is no need for the bullpen, and if the team scores runs early that pitcher can dominate the game. After all the starting pitching has been terrific with a league best 3.36 ERA.

Clearly this is not the same team without Adrian Beltre in the lineup. It has also been apparent that there have been some horrible at bats so far with players swinging for a home run with every pitch. A consistent at bat, getting on base, and finding little ways to manufacture runs has been what has made this franchise successful for the past seven years.  That is just not happening so far in 2017.

Is that coaching or is it players being un-coach-able? Nobody believes it is lack of talent, but this team is tied for the 3rd most strikeouts. That pretty well tells the story of guys coming to the plate and believing that because the pitcher threw it, I should swing at it. Crazy, and incompetent.

So how does a team get away from the Mendoza Line? Patience, and competent at bats. There is nothing better than eight pitch at bats as a goal for every player. If a pitcher has four pitches, fastball, slider, curve, and a change-up, in an eight pitch at bat a player might get to see all of them twice. The longer a batter is at the plate the greater the chance the pitcher makes a mistake. The more mistakes, the more chances for misses, which can lead to more base on balls, more base runners, and more chances to actually make contact with the ball. The more contact, the greater the chances are that it creates a base hit.

This team must learn to play within itself, each player has to commit to making every pitch and every at bat count. Consider the math, every 25 hits while batting 500 times means 50 points in average. The difference between hitting .200 and .250 is 25 more hits over those same 500 trips to the plate.  That means bloopers, bunt’s for hits, Texas Leaguer’s, and ground balls with eyes all count, and not just home runs.

This team can improve but they must learn this philosophy and execute every game, with every plate appearance. If they don’t the team will end up just as Mario Mendoza, out of a job, fans will stop coming to games, managers and GM’s jobs are in jeopardy, and folks with promising careers go back to selling cars or insurance.

There is too much talent on the team for this to happen. Now that we have diagnosed the hitting problem if only Doug Brocail could get a message to the bullpen that they only need to know three things. Just as in real estate it is all about Location, Location, Location.  Just because Mario Mendoza played for the Rangers 30+ years ago, does not mean they need to continue to emulate him now!

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