Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman has been an MVP runner-up in 2019, a World Series champion and a two-time All-Star. By his standards he's not having a good season, hitting .221 with just six home runs in 52 games through Sunday. Indeed, by the numerical standards we're used to that isn't much of a season for anyone.
However, given the leaguewide offensive context of 2022, Bregman is actually having a solid enough year at the plate.
His OPS+ is 112, which is 12% better than that of a league-average hitter. What does that mean? We cite OPS+ a lot here, but if you're not familiar with the metric, it takes a batter's on-base percentage plus slugging percentage and normalizes it across the entire league, making minor adjustments for factors such as home park effects, with a 100 OPS+ a league-average hitter.
Bregman is hitting .221/.336/.387, but the major league average is just .240/.311/.388, which would be the lowest leaguewide OPS since 1989 (although it's been trending upward in recent weeks). He also plays in a park that has favored pitchers, so that helps his adjusted OPS.
Still, it can be hard to get past that .221 average. It's a little ironic, right? Sabermetricians have spent decades telling us that batting average is overrated -- and it certainly can be -- but when there was an offensive drought at the start of the 2022 season, what did everyone want? More hits ... higher batting averages ... more balls in play.
Every sport has the issue of comparing numbers across eras. In the NFL in 2021, 10 quarterbacks threw for 4,000 yards; 20 years ago, just two did so. Michael Jordan averaged 28.7 points in 1997-98; Luka Doncic averaged 28.4 in 2021-22 -- but in a season in which the average NBA team scored 15 more points per game.
But in baseball, we care much more about the numbers. They're simply more important to fans than in other sports.
When the numbers get out of whack, it throws our brains for a loop. What does an All-Star season look like in 2022? What does a good season look like? What does an average hitter look like? Let's look at some examples and compare them to numbers from the past (cherry-picked for dramatic effect and all stats are through the start of the week).