.400 isn't the only history Arraez is chasing

July 2nd, 2023

The Marlins’  has thrilled the baseball world throughout the first half with his spirited pursuit of the first .400 season in the AL or NL since Ted Williams in 1941. But even if Arraez falls short of that lofty goal, there is another type of history he can make.

That’s because even more impressive than his batting average – which, don’t get us wrong, is incredibly impressive – is the way it stands out against the rest of his big league competition. It’s one thing to hit .380 when your closest challenger is hitting .365. But as it stands, in the race for both the NL batting title and the overall Major League lead, Arraez has an absurd 55-point lead over the Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr. (.388 to .333) after Saturday’s contest between their teams.

After all, context matters. Arraez regularly faces high-90s fastballs, wipeout breaking pitches and waves of fresh relief pitchers. MLB hitters as a group are batting .248 -- 140 points below Arraez. Back in 1941, in a far different environment and before integration or expansion, batters hit .261.

To frame that another way, consider the “AVG+” metric available at FanGraphs. AVG+ works like OPS+, scaling a particular stat (in this case batting average) to a league average of 100 while taking into account park effects and other factors. At present, Arraez’s 155 AVG+ would be the highest in an AL/NL season in the Modern Era (since 1900).

But let’s keep it simple here and focus on the batting average lead Arraez holds over Acuña. Here is a breakdown of the largest gaps between league leaders and the next-closest qualifiers -- both at the All-Star break (since the first All-Star Game in 1933) and at the end of a season.

Largest BA leads, MLB, pre-break
1. 62 pts. -- 1977 Rod Carew (.394) vs. Bob Bailor/Ted Simmons (.332)
2. 52 pts. -- 1939 Joe DiMaggio (.435) vs. Morrie Arnovich (.383)
3. 39 pts. -- 1935 Arky Vaughan (.398) vs. Bob Johnson (.359)
4. 38 pts. -- 1983 Rod Carew (.402) vs. George Brett (.364)
5. 36 pts. -- 1955 Al Kaline (.371) vs. Roy Campanella (.335)
Largest BA leads, AL/NL, pre-break
1. 77 pts. -- 1939 Joe DiMaggio (.435) vs. Jimmie Foxx (.358)
2. 65 pts. -- 1993 John Olerud (.395) vs. David Segui (.330)
3. 62 pts. -- 1977 Rod Carew (.394) vs. Bob Bailor (.332)
4. 52 pts. -- 1948 Stan Musial (.403) vs. Richie Ashburn (.351)
5. 51 pts. -- 1974 Rod Carew (.382) vs. Carl Yastrzemski (.331)

A week out from the All-Star break, Arraez has all but locked up a spot on both leaderboards, and, as of the start of play Sunday, would slot in between a pair of Hall of Famers in Carew and DiMaggio. But maintaining that kind of lead over the field through a full season has proven more difficult. While every leader listed above did at minimum win his league's batting title, no player has ever ended the season leading MLB by more than 50 points.

Largest BA leads, MLB, reg. season
1-T. 50 pts. -- 1977 Rod Carew (.388) vs. Dave Parker (.338)
1-T. 50 pts. -- 1901 Nap Lajoie (.426) vs. Jesse Burkett (.376)
3. 47 pts. -- 1941 Ted Williams (.406) vs. Cecil Travis (.359)
4. 46 pts. -- 1924 Rogers Hornsby (.424) vs. Babe Ruth (.378)
5. 38 pts. -- 1980 George Brett (.390) vs. Cecil Cooper (.352)

Largest BA leads, AL/NL, reg. season
1. 86 pts. -- 1901 Nap Lajoie (.426) vs. Mike Donlin (.340)
2. 52 pts. -- 1977 Rod Carew (.388) vs. Lyman Bostock (.336)
3. 49 pts. -- 1924 Rogers Hornsby (.424) vs. Zack Wheat (.375)
4. 48 pts. -- 1974 Rod Carew (.364) vs. Jorge Orta (.316)
5-T. 47 pts. -- 1941 Ted Williams (.406) vs. Cecil Travis (.359)
5-T. 47 pts. -- 1922 Rogers Hornsby (.401) vs. Ray Grimes (.354)
5-T. 47 pts. -- 1921 Rogers Hornsby (.397) vs. Austin McHenry (.350)

Clearly, the conditions haven't been right for this kind of dominance in a long time, and despite the similarities between Arraez and, say, Carew, we can't really compare the leagues all of these guys were playing in to the one we're watching today. Being a .400 hitter -- a milestone Arraez is obviously flirting with -- is less conceivable now than it ever has been. Despite how impressive his raw average is, the gulf between himself and Acuña does more to represent just how much of an outlier Arraez is, even against some of the best hitters baseball has ever seen.

While not a perfect parallel, consider this -- among MLB-wide batting average leaders since 1995, the largest lead any player has had at the break was the 33-point lead Derrek Lee (.378) held over Brian Roberts (.345) in 2005. Lee did go on to win a batting title that year, but his lead -- both in the NL and across the Majors -- had dwindled to four points by season's end. Over a full season, the record belongs to Josh Hamilton (.359), who led baseball by 23 points in 2010 (Carlos González, .336). Arraez, barring any unforeseen complications, has all but locked up the NL batting title, which hasn't been settled by more than 16 points since 2002 -- four have been settled by one point or less.

As baseball fans, when presented with a season like the one Arraez is having, we're trained to anticipate regression. That very well might be on its way -- baseball is brutal, and it stops for no one -- but with opposing pitchers still searching for a reliable way to solve Arraez, we might be waiting awhile.