With more and more people paying attention to stats like OPS and WAR, parts of the baseball mindset have certainly changed. Batting .300 in AVG used to be the gold standard. Recently, the number of .300 hitters has dropped.
In the decade of 2000-2009 (whatever that's called), 394 players hit at least .300, for a mean of 39.4 each year. In 2000 alone, 53 players batted .300.
This decade has seen a substantial dropoff in the number of .300 hitters. In 2010 there were 23, 2011 had 25, and 2012 had 26. As of July 20th, 2013, there are 32, so we'll see how many can hang on.
The decline of .300 hitters begs 2 questions:
Why is this happening?
With AVG becoming less valuable of a stat, does it really matter?
Three factors are likely contributing to the decrease in .300 hitters.
The first is the supposed decrease in steroid-use. It is likely that the spike in categories like AVG, HR, and OPS during the late 90s and 2000s are a result of increase in steroid users. In fact, major league hitters combined to bat .255 so far in the 2010s, but in the 2000s combined to bat .265. That's a 10 point decrease in a decade.
The second factor could be sabermetrics. Perhaps more players are trying to raise their OPS, not their AVG. Some argue that players are being more selective at the plate, trying to walk more, and post more extra base hits. However, if players are being more patient, it isn't working. 10 years ago, the average team walked 3.27 times per game, and struck out 6.34 times per game. In 2013, walks have dropped to 2.99, and strikeouts increased to 7.51. And the rate of extra base hits has varied little, if at all in every season since 2000.
The third factor could be better pitching. After all pitching is half the game. Indivdually, pitchers throw less innings each year, and seem to be throwing with greater velocity.
Maybe the decline in .300 hitters in a mix of all these factors, some of them, or is merely a coincidence. I really wish we could fast forward 10 years to look back on the 2010s. Will the current decade be labeled the "Non-Steroid Decade", the "Sabermetric Decade", the "Pitchers' Decade", or something else?
Ultimately, should the number of .300 hitters keep declining, it will be interesting to see how this is viewed by baseball fans. Will players who actually do bat .300 in a season be celebrated? Or will we even talk about it anymore?
Personally, I think it is wise for GMs and baseball personnel to integrate more sabermetrics into the game. However, there is something to be said for hitting .300. To bat .300 over 162, one needs more than luck. Those with career averages of .300 are great hitters as far as I'm concerned.
But one thing is for sure; next decade-or-so could have a huge role in characterizing the conversation about the .300 hitter.