How Luis Arraez can make batting title history

May 10th, 2024

Remember Opening Week, when there was a mild freakout because Luis Arraez started the season 0-for-13 over his first two-plus games? Something must be wrong if a two-time defending batting champion goes hitless for that long, right?

Settle down, social media.

Since those first 13 hitless at-bats, Arraez is batting .340 – just above his .335 average from 2022-23 – and has 14 multi-hit games, including five games with three or more hits. That includes a four-hit night in his debut game with the Padres on May 4 after his trade from the Marlins. In other words, everything is fine and back to normal for one of the best bat-to-ball guys in the game.

But more importantly, it means Arraez has a shot to do something nobody's done in the Modern Era: win a batting title with three different teams.

Arraez is already the only player to win a batting title in the American and National leagues in consecutive seasons, and he's one of just eight AL/NL players since 1900 to win batting titles with multiple teams. Last season, Arraez was the first to do it since DJ LeMahieu in 2016 (Rockies) and the pandemic-shortened 2020 season (Yankees). But before LeMahieu, it had been done only once in more than 70 years.

Players to win AL/NL batting titles with multiple teams (since 1900)

  • Luis Arraez (2022 Twins; 2023 Marlins)
  • DJ LeMahieu (2016 Rockies; 2020 Yankees)
  • Bill Madlock (1975-76 Cubs; 1981, '83 Pirates)
  • Ernie Lombardi (1938 Reds; 1942 Braves)
  • Jimmie Foxx (1933 A's; 1938 Red Sox)
  • Lefty O'Doul (1929 Phillies; 1932 Dodgers)
  • Rogers Hornsby (1920-25 Cardinals; 1928 Braves)
  • Nap Lajoie (1901 A's; 1903-04, 1910 Cleveland)

So for Arraez to win a third batting title with a third team – especially in three straight seasons – would be something truly special in MLB history. But he'll have work to do.

Keep on climbing

Arraez enters play Friday hitting .312, well off the NL batting lead. That belongs to Shohei Ohtani, who's batting .355. In fact, Arraez isn't even in the top 10, but just outside at No. 11 behind the Braves' Marcell Ozuna (.315).

For Arraez to climb the leaderboard, it'll likely take a combination of him staying hot and other players cooling off. That's far from impossible, but still a tall order considering how many names Arraez would have to leap-frog, including Mookie Betts (.346), Alec Bohm (.346) and Will Smith (.331). Still, it’s only May and there’s a very long way to go.

For one thing, several of the names on the current leaderboard don't have nearly the same track record as Arraez when it comes to hitting for average. Even Ohtani – as otherworldly as he can seem – has never hit higher than his .304 average last season. And Betts has hit above .300 just once in the past five seasons, and that was also last year. Meanwhile, Bohm and Smith have never hit above .300 over a full season.

Also important: It's still early. Averages can fall rapidly. A .340 hitter now could be a .240 hitter by season's end. But nobody expects Arraez to have anything close to that type of dip. In fact, multiple projections still pick him to finish as the NL batting leader.

In terms of batted ball data, a few factors would probably help Arraez climb the batting ranks. First, he needs to hit fewer ground balls and get back to hitting more line drives and fly balls. His ground ball rate so far in 2024 is a career-high 47.3 percent, significantly higher than last season's 42.8 percent. And his line drive rate has dipped to 28.8 percent, down from 31.3 percent in 2023. Likewise, his fly ball rate is down to 22.6 percent from last season's 24.1 percent. There are generally more hits to be found with line drives and fly balls than with grounders, so a little improvement in those areas could go a long way for Arraez, considering that he remains an elite contact hitter (99th percentile whiff rate, 100th percentile K-rate).

But how realistic is it to expect Arraez to climb his way to the top and make history with a third batting title for a third team? History shows that it’s a difficult task.

Past bids for No. 3

Of the eight AL/NL players to win batting titles with two teams in the Modern Era, only one really came close to capturing a third crown with a third team. And even he wasn't that close.

Rogers Hornsby won seven batting titles in his career, six with the Cardinals (1920-1925) and one with the Braves (1928). But in 1927, he hit .361 during a one-season stint with the Giants and finished second in the batting race behind Paul Waner's .380 average. Then, one season after his batting title with the Braves, he hit .380 in his first season with the Cubs. But even that was only good enough to finish third in the batting race behind Lefty O'Doul (.398) and Babe Herman (.381).

An honorable mention goes to Bill Madlock, who won four batting titles in his career – two each with the Cubs (1975-76) and Pirates (1981, '83). He had a shot at another batting title with the Giants in 1978, when he hit .309, but he finished a distant fourth to Dave Parker's .334.

So, the tide of baseball history might be working against Arraez’s prospects. But then, the beauty of new baseball records is that they don't exist until they do.

Arraez's .354 average last season that won him the NL batting title was an extreme outlier in his career and well above the .316 average that captured the AL title a year earlier. His career average is .325, which is probably closer to what we should expect from him this season. Would that ultimately be enough to finish on top? To paraphrase the late All-Star pitcher Joaquin Andujar, baseball questions like this can be summed up in one word: You never know.