Livescore Friday, April 12

It’s fair to call Luis Arraez a pesky hitter, but not exactly in the way baseball people have traditionally used the word. 

Last year’s AL batting champ who is in his first season with the Marlins is pesky in the literal definition of the word: annoying, always causing trouble. In a baseball context, that means he’s always getting hits, always making things happen, always driving pitchers mad. Pesky in a way that the stats back up. Pesky in a way that wins batting titles, like he did in his breakout 2022 season. Pesky in a way that has him flirting with a .400 average on June 6 and on track to do something no other hitter has ever done.

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That contrasts with the traditional baseball definition of the word, often used as a vague way to describe light-hitting players who tend to make contact and just seem like a tough out, no matter what the stats actually say — a nice thing to say about a hitter who’s just kind of OK, who can slap singles the other way but doesn’t possess any threatening (read: run-creating) offensive skills. 

That’s not Luis Arraez, at least not in 2023. Though he does slap singles the other way, the 26-year-old is pesky in a very real way that should propel him to Seattle next month for his second straight All-Star appearance. But then, a .399 average and a .945 OPS will do that every time. 

It’s a pesky that resembles peak Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs — a kind of pesky that doesn’t come around often, the kind of pesky that’s fun to watch, and the kind of pesky that could have Arraez chasing history on two fronts:

1) Chasing a .400 average, which hasn’t happened in a 154- or 162-game season since 1941.

2) Winning a batting title in both leagues in consecutive seasons, which has never been done.

Now, let’s pull out a wet blanket: As fun as a chase for .400 would be, we must be honest and say that Arraez will almost certainly not hit .400 this season. We don’t know that, of course, but we know that. Nobody has even come close in nearly 30 years. There have been a good number of players to carry a .400 average into the summer, sometimes even deep into the summer, but the lack of .400 seasons over the past 80-plus years speaks to the extreme difficulty of the task.

But winning a batting title in both leagues in consecutive seasons? That is much more possible, perhaps even probable at this point. That .399 average is 68 points higher than his next-closet competition: Freddie Freeman and his .331 average as of Tuesday. So, barring injury, Arraez could be set to capture the feat even with a good amount of expected regression. That bit of history aside, he would be just the second player in the modern era to win a batting title in each league (DJ LeMahieu in 2016 and 2020).

So what’s made Arraez so special this season? Well, he’s been an on-base machine, reaching safely at a clip — .450 as of Tuesday — that’s 75 points higher than last season, when he won the AL batting title with a .316 average for the Twins. 

And it starts with his elite ability to make contact. His whiff rate is just 6.9 percent, the lowest of his career, and his strikeout rate is a mere 4.8 percent (he’s fanned just 11 times this season), putting him in the top 1 percent of the league. When he swings at balls in the strike zone, he makes contact 94 percent of the time. And even when he chases out of the zone, he puts the bat on the ball nearly 90 percent of the time. 

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When he makes contact, Arraez sprays the ball all over the field, making him hard to defend. And while his average exit velocity (88 mph) is a little below league average, he hits the ball hard enough to poke through whatever holes are made available, whether on the infield or in the outfield gaps that lead to extra bases. And his ball-to-bat skills are strong enough that he can occasionally send one over the outfield wall.

He’s already amassed 25 multi-hit games this season, including eight games of three or more hits (and a cycle on April 11), and his .495 slugging percentage is second on the Marlins among qualified players behind slugger Jorge Soler. Here’s another tidbit that confirms the threat he poses: He leads Miami with five intentional walks, more than twice as many as anyone else.

This kind of production is just what the Marlins had in mind when they acquired him in a trade for Pablo Lopez and two minor leaguers during the offseason. And he’s a big reason why Miami sits just three games out of first place in the NL East. 

Still have that wet blanket? Both Arraez and the Marlins have over-performed. His expected batting average this season is .332, more than 60 points below his actual average, meaning he’s hit a lot of flares, burners and bloopers that have found grass. And though his line-drive percentage is up a bit this season, it’s probably not enough to keep the average in historic territory for the rest of the season. But .350 or .360? Certainly possible.

Meanwhile, the Marlins have a minus-34 run differential this season, which is not sustainable for a team with playoff aspirations. Unless that changes soon, even with Arraez staying hot, Miami will fade downward in the NL East standings. So both Arraez and the Marlins are outperforming their numbers. But of the two, Arraez is the much safer bet to keep it up, even if he falls well short of .400.

Of course, a player doesn’t need to make history to have an outstanding season that’s worthy of our attention. So regardless of whether Arraez adds his name to the record book in 2023, he’s giving baseball fans plenty to appreciate.

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