July 01, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Perhaps the toughest statistic in baseball to evaluate also is the most common -- the batting average. It is the one measure by which all hitters, sluggers and slappers alike, are rated.

But it often can be more deceptive than informative. As an example, consider this simple query: What is the difference between a .250 and .300 hitter?

The obvious answer is 50 points, but that's too basic. Taken to the next step, it's five additional hits every 100 at-bats. Those are the pure mathematical formulas, but there's another that is more intriguing.

Would you believe, based on 525 at-bats, the difference between hitting .250 or .300 breaks down to one extra hit per week? It's a fraction above that level for 600 at-bats and a fraction below for 500. However it's gauged, one hit a week never looked so big.

What prompts the observation is the imminent return of Mike Devereaux to the lineup, perhaps as early as tonight. When the center fielder returns, he'll be lugging a .220 average. It's not quite the return you'd expect for $3.375 million, which only obscures the evaluation because at roughly $130,000 per week you tend to expect an extra hit or two.

But the worst approach for Devereaux, as it is with any hitter who is struggling, would be to try to get it all back at once. A .292 average the rest of the way would enable him to finish at .260. If he hits .260 between now and the end of the season he would wind up at .240.

Why the obsession with .260? Because that is Devereaux's lifetime average in the five seasons he's been with the Orioles. His other numbers suggest that if he hits at that pace the rest of the year, he'll produce a normal season. If he finishes that high overall, the Orioles will get a huge bonus. Either way they'd get a boost.

As was the case earlier with Brady Anderson, the reason Devereaux's average looks so bleak is because of his high strikeout ratio.

Other than those two categories, however, his pace is routine.

In the previous five years, Devereaux has averaged an RBI and a run scored for every 7.6 at-bats, and a home run for every 33, compared to 7.7 and 28 this season. Considering his career year in 1992 (.276, 24, 107), everything is in order except his batting average and strikeouts (which undoubtedly are connected).

If Devereaux were hitting .260, there undoubtedly would be a different topic for discussion. But he's hitting 40 points lower -- and the difference is nine hits.

Not counting his time on the disabled list that works out to, as you probably have guessed, less than a hit per week.