This budding star is hitting like peak Ichiro

Arraez leads MLB with a .361 batting average and .443 on-base percentage

June 21st, 2022

One base at a time, Luis Arraez is putting together a remarkable season that has little precedent in MLB history.

The Twins infielder owns a 160 OPS+ while slashing .361/.443/.439 this year, which means he’s been 60% better than the average hitter (adjusting for park factors).

Arraez leads the Majors in batting average and OBP, and in terms of OPS+, he has outperformed hard-hitting sluggers such as Pete Alonso (157 OPS+), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (145) and Giancarlo Stanton (142).

He’s managed to do this even though just 10 of his 74 hits (13.5 X/H%) have gone for extra bases, including three homers.

In the live ball era (since 1920), only four AL/NL batting-title qualifiers (five instances) have finished a season with an OPS+ of 120 or higher while recording an X/H% (extra-base hits / total hits) of 15% or lower (per Stathead):

  • Taffy Wright, 1947 (123 OPS+, 13.1 X/H%)
  • Richie Ashburn, 1948 (123 OPS+, 14.9 X/H%)
  • Willie Randolph, 1991 (126 OPS+, 12.1 X/H%)
  • Ichiro Suzuki, 2004 (130 OPS+, 14.1 X/H%)
  • Ichiro Suzuki, 2007 (122 OPS+, 14.7 X/H%)

The 2004 season was Ichiro Suzuki at his peak. The Mariners outfielder set the all-time single-season hits record with 262, 225 of which were singles. He led MLB with a .372 batting average and had a career-best 130 OPS+, the highest mark for anyone on the list above.

Again, Arraez’s OPS+ is 160, so he’s verging on history.

Though Arraez was never quite this good in previous seasons, hitting for a high batting average is nothing new for the 25-year-old. Arraez played his 300th career game on June 15 and came out of it with a lifetime average of .320, one of the highest marks through 300 career games in the expansion era (since 1961).

Highest BA through 300 career games, since 1961
Min. 1,000 plate appearances

  • .352 -- Wade Boggs
  • .339 -- Ichiro Suzuki
  • .333 -- Mike Greenwell, Bill Madlock
  • .329 -- Tony Gwynn
  • .327 -- Ralph Garr
  • .325 -- Fred Lynn
  • .321 -- Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Rico Carty
  • .320 -- Luis Arraez

You’ll notice that Ichiro's name keeps coming up here, which is fitting.

The two not only have similar skills at the plate, but we learned recently that Ichiro considers Arraez to be his favorite left-handed hitter in today’s game, and they got a chance to meet when the Twins were in Seattle to play the Mariners last week.

"It's big," said Arraez. "I didn't know he thought about me. I'm excited because I know I'm a good hitter, but like him? I don't think so. Ichiro was a really good hitter."

Arraez may not want to put himself on the same level as the future Hall of Famer, but his 2022 campaign is certainly reminiscent of vintage Ichiro, as he has become one of the game’s most productive hitters with little power production of which to speak. Here’s how:

He makes a lot of contact (and avoids weak contact)

Arraez’s bat-to-ball skills are almost unrivaled in this era.

In his career, Arraez has swung at 2,123 pitches and missed on only 200 of them. His 9.4% whiff rate (misses / swings) is the lowest in MLB (min. 500 swings) since 2019, the year he made his debut. In that same span, the MLB average whiff rate is 25.8%. Arraez's 8.8% whiff rate this season is nearly three points lower than that of the next closest hitter, Cleveland's José Ramírez, among players with at least 400 swings.

Unsurprisingly, he also has proven extremely difficult to strike out, recording a lifetime 9% K-rate, also well south of the big league average (23% since 2019).

But contact alone doesn’t make a great hitter. Contact quality is important, too.

Usually, we'd look at a player's hard-hit rate (the percentage of batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or higher) and barrel rate (the percentage of batted balls with an optimal combination of exit velocity and launch angle, typically resulting in homers and extra-base hits) to determine if he was producing quality contact.

Arraez doesn't have a high ranking in either metric, placing in the eighth percentile in hard-hit rate and the 18th percentile in barrel rate.

However, if you break down the contact Arraez does produce, as well as the contact he avoids, you can see why he hits for such a high average. (Rankings listed below are among the more than 250 players with at least 100 batted balls this season.)

  • He has a 31.4% flare/burner rate, ninth highest in MLB. This batted-ball classification consists of sharply hit grounders and softly hit balls with a ton of loft. These balls don't do you any favors on the barrel leaderboard, but they tend to find real estate between infielders or in front of outfielders. Arraez is hitting .845 (49-for-58) on flares and burners this season.
  • He has a 27.6% line-drive rate, tied for 41st highest in MLB. Arraez is 41-for-51 (.804) on line drives this season.
  • He has a 1.1% weak contact rate, tied for 16th lowest in MLB. This batted-ball classification consists of balls with extremely low exit velocities (below 60 mph). Batted balls under this classification have generated a .191 batting average across the big leagues this season.
  • He has a 1.6% infield popup rate, tied for 10th lowest in MLB. Infield popups are almost as bad as strikeouts, generating a .020 batting average across the big leagues this season.

(Note: There’s some overlap between these categories. For example, some line drives are counted under the flare/burner classification, and some popups are counted in the weak-contact classification.)

He hits the ball to all fields

The rise of shifting has made it all the more difficult for batters to "hit 'em where they ain't." Fielders know every batter's tendencies and are positioned accordingly.

Arraez, though, is virtually unshiftable. He's seen a shift on just 3% of pitches in 2022. Only one left-handed batter has been shifted less frequently.

Lowest shift percentage, LHB, 2022
Min. 400 pitches seen

  1. Raimel Tapia (TOR): 0.6%
  2. Luis Arraez (MIN): 3%
  3. Nicky Lopez (KC): 3.7%
  4. Leury García (CWS): 7.4%
  5. Luis González (SF): 7.5%

Defenses can't shift Arraez because he can make them pay with his Ichiro-esque ability to spray the ball all over the park, like he did on this two-run single in the top of the eighth inning against the Mariners on June 15. Seattle wasn't in a full shift on the play, but with shortstop Dylan Moore shading him up the middle, Arraez had plenty of room to poke a grounder through the vacated shortstop's hole.

Among the 253 hitters with 100 batted balls in 2022, the 25-year-old is one of only 25 who have gone to each field at least 29.7% of the time. This is his batted-ball breakdown in 2022:

  • Pull: 29.7%, .309 BA
  • Straightaway: 40.5%, .453 BA
  • Opposite: 29.7%, .418 BA

He forces pitchers to throw him strikes

Many players with low strikeout rates limit K’s in part by swinging early and often, thus avoiding getting into two-strike counts. Not Arraez, who is anything but a free-swinger.

He has the second-lowest first-pitch swing rate (15.3%) in MLB (min. 200 plate appearances) this season, and he rarely expands the zone, as evidenced by his 22.7% chase rate, well below the MLB average of 28.6%.

His patience and keen batting eye are big reasons why he's been so valuable, as he's frequently put himself in advantageous situations.

In general, MLB hitters perform better with the count in their favor, and Arraez has been behind in the count on just 23.1% of the pitches he's seen in 2022, down from 26.4% from 2019-21. He's hitting .368 when ahead of the pitcher or in an even count. Granted, pitchers haven't fared much better against him even when they've had the advantage, allowing Arraez to bat .344 when behind in the count and .306 with two strikes.

When he hasn't gotten a pitch to hit, he hasn't forced the issue. He's walking in a career-high 11.9% of his plate appearances, up 2.9 points from 2021.

Arraez has become an elite table-setter for the Twins, and it's looking more and more likely that he's going to earn his first All-Star selection next month.

We know he has Ichiro's vote.