MLB’s history is full of records and milestones that were once thought to never be reached again. Once in every generation there comes a player who catches everyone’s attention across the league in the early months of the season at a historic pace to match one of the most impressive feats in all of baseball: a .400 batting average.
Could 2023 be the year that snaps the 82-year streak without a .400 hitter? Boston’s Ted Williams was the last hitter to reach the threshold in 1941, finishing the season with a .406 average. Williams became the 8th player in MLB history since 1900 to hit .400 or better in a season, and the first since New York Giants first baseman Bill Terry in 1930.
Miami Marlins second baseman Luis Arraez has gotten off to an incredible start to the season as he chases the historic number, currently leading the league with an .378 batting average, .431 on-base percentage, and second in the league in hits with 91. His first year in Miami has cemented him as one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, proving to be the catalyst for a young team on the rise.
Coming off his first career batting title with Minnesota in 2022 with a .316 average, his contact skills and ability to hit to all fields have been put on display in Miami. His consistency has led to a .323 career average and left teams trying to find ways to position their defense, but to no avail as he exploits the open space in the field and leads the league in hitting for the second consecutive year.
Maintaining a .400 BA over a full season has become increasingly difficult with the level of high-quality pitchers across the league. The average innings pitched per start for starting pitchers is at an all-time low, averaging just 4.57 innings pitched in 2022. Teams have become more willing to take their starter out of the game early in a new-school way of thinking that emphasizes the importance of relief pitching and not letting an opposing lineup see the same pitcher three times in one game.
In the 82-year span without a .400 hitter, only Williams, George Brett, and Tony Gwynn have finished with a batting average above .380. In the 1994 strike-shortened season, Gwynn came the closest to reaching .400, finishing the season at .394 in 110 games.
The consistency required for a player to keep a near .400 average is a virtue that players have not been able to have over a full season. Since 1941, 48 qualified players including Arraez have had a BA of .400 or higher through May 17. Of those 48 players, only 12 went on to win the batting title, 12 finished the season hitting .350 or higher, and 11 hit below .300 on the season.
Arraez’s BA has started to slip with just one hit in his last 4 games, falling from .397 to .378. His first slump of the season has started, and while .400 may not be a realistic expectation at the end of the season, he will still play a massive role for Miami down the stretch as they look to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2020.
Arraez has remained one of the toughest players to strike out with just 15 strikeouts in 64 games, cementing himself as the top contact hitter in MLB with a league-low 5.6 K%. Sitting in the 100th percentile in both K% and Whiff%, no player has had the continued success at the plate to put the ball in play as much as Arraez.
With MLB’s decision to ban the shift, an emphasis on putting the ball in play, much to the advantage of Miami’s leadoff hitter. Players around the league are still aiming to hit the ball in the air and out of the ballpark, but teams like the Marlins that have been able to string hits together despite hitting the 9th fewest home runs as a team have found success in the early months of the 2023 season.
Arraez only has one home run in 2023, unlike Cody Bellinger who last flirted with a .400 BA through the first month of the season in 2019 and finished with 47 home runs. With a career-high 8 home runs in 2022, Arraez has never been a consistent power threat, but his hit tools that have become somewhat unappreciated in the era of home runs has turned him into one of the better hitters in baseball.
No player has hit .350 or higher since 2010, but if there is any player in the league right now that could end this streak, it would be Arraez. He has played in 64 of the team’s first 69 games of the season, and despite having only 20 walks on the season, his ability to put the ball in play anywhere on the field could put him above the mark in late September.