If you thought Luis Arráez liked hitting baseballs as a member of the Minnesota Twins last year, he must be in baseball heaven now as a member of the Miami Marlins.
Playing his home games in the Sunshine State and in the major league ballpark closest to his native Venezuela, Arráez is aiming to win batting titles in different leagues in back-to-back years. He might have the award sewn up before July is far along.
Arráez won the 2022 American League batting title last year with the Twins, hitting .316 and denying Aaron Judge (.311) a Triple Crown season. That race came down to the final games in September, with Arráez securing the title with two walks and a single before being lifted for a pinch runner in Minnesota's Game 162.
It doesn't appear that we are headed for a nail-biter this time around. Arráez is in a different league, in more ways than one.
How Far Ahead in the NL Batting Title Race is Arráez?
Far. So far, that it might be prudent for the engravers to knock this one out before they get slammed with the other awards.
Through 87 games in 2023, the Marlins infielder is currently sitting at .387, with 120 hits in 310 at-bats. He leads Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. by a whole 50 percentage points. Fifty! That means if Arráez went stone cold and didn't record a hit over his next 40 at-bats and Acuña simply maintained his current, very respectable .337 pace, the Marlins second baseman would still be ahead in the batting average column.
There's not a ton of competition coming behind Acuña, either. Only Freddie Freeman (.313), Nick Castellanos (.312) and Lane Thomas (.301) join Arráez and Acuña as the five players hitting over .300 in the National League.
With 120 hits, Arráez only has five more base knocks than Acuña and only six more hits than American League batting leader Bo Bichette (.315), but Acuña has taken 341 at-bats to reach that tally, and Bichette has needed 362.
If Arráez were to play all 75 remaining games without a day off, his pace sets him up to collect 237 base hits, on the cusp of one of the top 20 seasons for hits in baseball history.
Hit Totals Are Down, Down, Down
Arráez is chasing batting average and hits records in a day and age where hitting for high average is simply not done anymore.
In 2004, Ichiro Suzuki set the single-season record for hits with 262, which Arráez cannot and will not catch. The previous record holder was George Sisler, who had 257 hits in 1920 — and he is followed on that list by nine players from 1930 or earlier, as the game emerged from the Dead Ball Era.
Suzuki interrupts that list with his entry of 242 hits in 2001, and he appears again in the top 20 with 238 hits in 2007. Other than Suzuki, Darin Erstad (240 in 2000) is the only one of the 55 players who have topped 225 hits in a season to do so since the turn of the century.
If you expand that database to include the 1990s, you add just one name: Lance Johnson, who had 227 hits in 1996 for the New York Mets. Johnson is the only player in the entire 1990s to have 225 or more hits, meaning that all but five of the 55 best single seasons (three of which belong to Ichiro) came in the 1980s or earlier.
Arráez would be the first active player with more than 225 hits in a season since Jose Altuve did so in 2014.
There have been 536 occurrences of a player collecting 200 or more hits in a season over the course of MLB history. In only 11 of those times was the player someone still active in the big leagues today, and four of those 11 are Altuve.
A History of Flirting With .400
If it seems that getting 200 or more hits in a season in the modern MLB is rare, it is. But hitting .400 over the course of a campaign? Unthinkable.
Jones, who was hitting .421 at the 62-game mark, stayed above the line for 73 games before fading to an eventual .364 batting average. That was still plenty good enough to win the 2008 NL Batting Title by seven points over Albert Pujols. Nomar Garciaparra lasted 91 games with an average over .400 in his 2000 season and won the second of back-to-back AL Batting Titles with a .372 clip.
Now even those numbers seem like lofty ambitions for Arráez to achieve.
His .316 average to win the 2022 crown was the lowest for an AL champion since 1968, when Carl Yastrzemski hit .301.
No player has hit .400 in a season since Ted Williams in 1941. Garciaparra's .372, equaled by Suzuki in 2004, ranks as just the 30th highest average for a batting champ. None of the other top-30 averages comes from after 1980.
Arráez looks like the real deal, and with the lead he has built up on the rest of the field, you would be crazy to bet against him to win another batting crown. But if I had to guess, and if history is any indication, that number will come way down before all is said and done. There's just too much baseball left to be played, and pitching is too good for him to keep up this torrid pace.
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