Last year, Luis Arraez ruined Aaron Judge’s chance at a triple crown by beating him for the American League batting title. This year, after being traded from the Minnesota Twins to the Miami Marlins, Arraez was able to join another Yankee, DJ LeMahieu, in one of baseball’s rarest accolades: winning a batting crown in both leagues.
Arraez, a throwback hitter who emphasizes contact over power, has significantly widened the gap between himself and the rest of Major League Baseball’s hitters thus far. Arraez, who hit .316 in 2022, hits .398, an incredible 51 points ahead of Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves, who is second in the majors with .347.
It would be easy enough to speculate that Arraez has benefited from MLB’s ban on defensive shifts. But while he was in favor of making that change, he said before the start of the season that he didn’t see himself as one of the hitters who needed help.
“The switch was difficult for a lot of batters,” he said. “I feel good about the shift because I can hit the ball anywhere I want. But no more shift is good for hitters.”
True to his word, he has spread the ball, pulling 30.4 percent of his hits, 38.3 percent to the center and 31.3 percent the other way, according to MLB’s Statcast system, making him one of the only 13 batters this season. dropping at least 30 percent of his hits on each location.
Even after that, Arraez has developed into the most unusual hitter of this power-oriented era. His 49 hits are third most in the majors, behind Toronto’s Bo Bichette and Acuña, but 41 of those are singles. Arraez’s 20 percent hard-hit rate — hits where the ball travels faster than 95 miles per hour — ranks 257th out of 261 qualified hitters, according to Statcast, light years behind Toronto’s Matt Chapman, who leads the majors at 67 percent.
Some drop-off to average is expected in seasons like this, and Arraez had a 12-game hit streak with an 0-for-3 performance in Wednesday’s win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, dropping his May average to .298 after he .438 had hit. in April. But his own history and the gap he has built against Acuña give him a legitimate chance to match LeMahieu, who won the NL crown with a .348 average for the Colorado Rockies in 2016 and the AL crown with a .364 average for the Yankees in 2016. the 2020 pandemic-shortened season.
Contrary to numerous reports crediting LeMahieu as the only person to accomplish this feat, he already has company. Ed Delahanty won the NL crown by hitting .410 for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1899, then won the AL crown by hitting .376 for the Washington Senators in 1902, both of which are listed on his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown.
Some ambiguity arose over the 1902 AL title because sites like Baseball Reference Nap credited Lajoie with an average of .378 that year. But the Elias Sports Bureau, MLB’s official scorer, has Lajoie at .366 and hasn’t gotten convincing evidence that his line needs to be changed. And while there was no official qualification standard for a batting title prior to 1950, an argument for Lajoie as the batting champion of 1902 would be of no merit either, as he played in only 87 games and had just 385 at bats, far below typical standards for a batsman. title.
Of course, for Arraez to join a roster that currently only includes two people would be a huge achievement, regardless of how people feel about the batting average in this era. But Arraez’s lead over Acuña has the potential to put him on another short list. In the integrated baseball era (1947 to present), only one batter, Rod Carew, has led the majors in batting average with 50 or more runs in a season, which Carew did by hitting .388 for the Minnesota Twins in 1977, far ahead of the NL’s leader, Dave Parker of the Pirates, who hit .338.
To find the major league record for largest batting average lead, you have to go all the way back to the first officially recognized major league season1876, when Chicago’s Ross Barnes batted .429, 63 points ahead of Philadelphia’s George Hall.
Could Arraez take such a big lead? It’s unlikely, but for baseball’s most unusual hitter, few things seem completely out of reach.
As for how he developed his contact-heavy approach, Arraez said it was pretty straightforward.
“Because I hate strikeouts,” he said. “I hate strikeouts and I want to get on base a lot.”
Tyler Kepner reporting contributed.