The 2022 batting champion will be ...

March 25th, 2022

While batting average may not carry the same weight it used to before new metrics provided a more complete picture of a hitter's true production, it's still a focal point for many -- and any Major League hitter would be happy to win a batting title.

Last year, those honors went to Trea Turner (.328) in the National League and Yuli Gurriel (.319) in the American League.

But what about 2022? As we shift the focus to a new season, here's a look at five players who writers predicted will finish with the highest overall batting average in the big leagues this season:

Tim Anderson -- SS, White Sox
Key number: .322 BA since 2019 (best in MLB)

This isn’t exactly an Earth-shattering selection, considering Anderson always seems to be in the hunt for the AL batting title. He claimed the honor with a .335 mark in 2019, then finished as the AL runner-up in ‘20 when he hit .322. Anderson again made a push last season, though his .309 mark ultimately ranked fourth in the AL. Regardless, he’s one of just two qualified batters (along with Michael Brantley) to hit at least .300 in each of the last three seasons. Anderson’s .322 average during that span is the best in the big leagues -- and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.

Though his average dipped a bit to .309 last season, Anderson's hard-hit percentage jumped from 35.8% in 2020 to 42.3% in '21 -- easily the highest of his career. He had a hard-hit percentage of 37.6% when he posted his career-best .335 average in '19. Along with the increase in hard-hit percentage (and, in turn, average exit velocity), Anderson's strikeout percentage and whiff percentage stayed about the same. Considering he's in the prime of his career and he also has elite speed working in his favor, it's not unreasonable to think Anderson takes yet another step forward in 2022. -- Paul Casella

Trea Turner -- SS, Dodgers
Key number: .330 BA from 2020-21, 1st in MLB

Turner finished with an MLB-best .328 average last season, and no qualified batter in the Majors had a higher batting average than his .330 over the past two seasons (no one had more than his 273 hits over that span, either). His 46.2% hard-hit rate last year was by far the best of his career, a good trend for the 28-year-old entering the 2022 campaign.

All of that is not to even mention what is perhaps Turner’s greatest tool: speed. No one had a higher average sprint speed than his 30.7 feet per second in 2021, and only Tim Locastro was tied with him for the top spot on Statcast’s leaderboard. With that kind of speed out of the box, Turner will certainly garner more than his fair share of infield hits to boost his batting average. -- Manny Randhawa

Juan Soto -- OF, Nationals
Key number: 23.9 percent hard-hit rate per swing

Choosing Soto to lead any offensive category is never a bad idea. He has gone from a teenage sensation to a full-on force possessing the best mix of power, plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills in baseball right now. Put simply, this is a 23-year-old with an impeccable .301/.432/.550 career slash line who is only getting better.

As far as picking Soto to win a batting crown? That comes from factoring in all of the above with the basic idea that it’s easier to hit for an exceedingly high (read: league-leading) average over a smaller number of at-bats. Given Soto’s 145 free passes and 22.2 percent walk rate a year ago -- best in baseball -- a reasonable expectation is that he’ll rack up 130-plus walks, especially in a Nationals lineup where he is the one hitter opponents will pitch to extra carefully. Those are fewer chances Soto will have to make an out, which should help him hit for a higher average.

As far as the instances when Soto does get a chance to hit? He makes impactful contact more frequently than anyone else. He recorded a hard-hit batted ball on 23.9 percent of his swings last year, the highest single-season rate since Statcast started tracking in 2015. That’s the stuff batting champs are made of. -- Jason Catania

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. -- 1B, Blue Jays
Key number: One of three players with 90th+ percentile hard-hit rate and 80th+ percentile K-rate in 2021

Guerrero made a serious run at the Triple Crown during his epic 2021 breakout, finishing with a .311 batting average, 48 homers and 111 RBIs over 161 games. He held an average of .300 or better every day of the season except one -- after his fifth game of the year on April 6.

Guerrero is one of the most powerful players in the game, but unlike many of today’s top sluggers, he combines his prodigious pop with a penchant for putting the ball in play -- a blend that’s conducive to a high average. MLB’s former No. 1 overall prospect not only had the sixth-highest hard-hit rate (the percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher) among qualifiers at 55.2% but also a 15.8% strikeout rate, 7.4 percentage points below the MLB-wide figure. Guerrero was one of three players, along with Juan Soto and Manny Machado, who had a hard-hit rate in the 90th percentile or better and a strikeout rate in the 80th percentile or better. He ended the year with 274 hard-hit balls, the most for one player in any season under Statcast tracking (since 2015). -- Thomas Harrigan

Kyle Tucker -- OF, Astros
Key number: .307 xBA in 2021

If you're looking for a batting champion, you want someone who's going to square the ball up as often as possible when he steps to the plate. Here's a way to find that kind of hitter with Statcast: look at who has the most hard-hit and sweet-spot contact per plate appearance. Hard-hit means 95 mph or harder off the bat. The sweet spot is a launch angle from 8-32 degrees, basically the best line drives and fly balls. Which brings us to Tucker. The Astros' rising star is a standout on both leaderboards.

Tucker hit the ball hard in 35.3% of his plate appearances in 2021, eighth-best among the 188 hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. He hit the ball in the sweet spot in 31.2% of his plate appearances, fifth-best among those hitters. And he did both -- hit the ball 95-plus mph with an 8-32 degree launch angle -- in 18.2% of his plate appearances. That was third-best.

Tucker's high quality and quantity of contact is why he had an expected batting average of .307 last season, tied for third-best among qualifiers behind Freddie Freeman and teammate Michael Brantley. He's only 25 and coming into his prime. He could be the best hitter in one of the best lineups in baseball. -- David Adler