Luis Arraez contemplated the question for a moment.
It’s a concept that Fox baseball analyst John Smoltz discussed when Arraez picked up his second hit in the 2023 All-Star game last week.
Given Arraez’s success in the past two seasons of putting the ball in play and getting on base, Smoltz theorized, maybe more hitters will start trying that approach instead of all-or-nothing gripping and ripping.
“Please. For me, everybody can hit with me, like me,” Arraez said. “But everybody just tries to hit homers. That’s not for me.”
Arraez, the Miami Marlins 26-year-old, lefty-hitting infielder, has carved out his space in the current baseball landscape as the game’s best pure hitter
He’s also flirting with a little history in July. Heading into the All-Star Break, Arraez’s average sat at .383, the highest mark at MLB’s official halfway point since Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra in 2000. In his first three games in the second half, Arraez went hitless twice and had a four-hit game, putting him at .380 through 89 contests.
That rarified air for roughly four months leads to speculation that maybe Arraez can do what no other major league hitter has been able to accomplish since Hall-of-Famer Ted Williams in 1941: hit .400 or better for an entire season.
“If I stay healthy, I think I can do a lot of good things. But I don’t focus on (.400). I just focus on (being) healthy, try to do something good for my teammates and win games,” Arraez said. “If we win and I hit .400, I’ll be happy. I know it is hard to hit .300, a lot of people hit .200. It is hard. But if God gives me the opportunity, let’s see if I can do it.”
Rare trade follows Luis Arraez’s batting title
Luis Arraez, who won the 2022 American League batting crown with a .316 average, inadvertently joined an exclusive group in January, when the Minnesota Twins dealt him to the Marlins for right-hander Pablo López and two prospects.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Arraez became just the third player in the divisional era (since 1969) to be traded in the offseason after winning a batting title, joining Rod Carew (1978) and Bill Madlock (1976).
The timing was somewhat incidental. The Marlins had been interested in Arraez for months but couldn’t pry him from the Twins until the offseason.
“For a while, (the Twins) weren’t sure they were going to move him. Obviously, they appreciated what he brought to the table. But eventually, it got to a point where everything made sense, and we made the deal,” Marlins general manager Kim Ng said. “Really, it was about acquiring pure hitters, and his ability to just barrel the ball, make great quality contact, was the part that was just incredibly appealing about this player.”
López represented the Twins in the All-Star Game this year; Arraez did the same for the Marlins, but he has also helped transform the club’s offense and put them in a playoff race in July.
Last year, before the arrival of Arraez, the Marlins had the ninth most strikeouts in baseball. This year with Arraez, who has fanned just 20 times in 386 plate appearances, the Marlins are 21st of 30 heading into this week’s play. Their team on-base percentage last year was .294, fourth worst in the majors; this year it is a more respectable .323, 14th overall. Arraez is leading the majors with a .431 OBP and a 5.3 percent strikeout rate.
“I don’t stomach strikeouts very well. There are ways to make productive outs and you can see we’ve leaned a little bit more that way this year,” Ng said. “It’s really been a concerted effort of our hitting staff and front office to really try and make sure everybody understands our thoughts on the strikeouts.”
Arraez is the poster hitter for that movement.
“I hate strikeouts. I don’t like strikeouts,” Arraez said. “I just want to put the ball in play, especially when I’ve got two strikes. I just put my mind on hitting the ball. That’s it.”
Using new-age stats to explain Luis Arraez’s success
There’s not any real mystery to Luis Arraez’s hitting approach. He attempts to put the barrel of the bat on every pitch in the strike zone. Through constant repetition and tremendous reflexes, he has developed the uncanny ability to do that across any quadrant of the plate. And when he hits the ball solidly, it often lands safely in the field – he had 107 singles, 19 doubles, three homers and a triple in his first 89 games.
“Everyone’s like, ‘Gosh, how does he do it?’ Because he focuses on the hit, and the intent is a single. If he gets anything extra, that’s great, too,” Marlins hitting coach Brant Brown said. “But like, four singles equal a homer. That’s why his OPS is so high (nearly .900). He has the highest OPS on our team. You can reap the benefits of contact by just making contact.”
With baseball’s hyper-focus on analytics, statistics such as launch angle and exit velocity have emerged as important tools to explain why a hitter is struggling or having success. Conversely, old-school stats such as batting average and RBIs have been pushed aside by OPS+, barrel rates and WAR.
Arraez is unimpressive when it comes to most of the newer stats. His 88.9 mph average exit velocity and 10.9 launch angle barely placed him into the top 200 among qualifying hitters. His 1.9 percent barrel rate (balls hit over 98 mph) is among the worst in the game, according to Statcast. Yet Arraez continually gets on base safely and scores runs.
“I still believe in batting average. I know that’s crazy,” laughed first-year Marlins manager Skip Schumaker, who hit .278 in an 11-season, big-league career. “I do believe in that because I think when you come to the yard, you see your batting average. You still look at that. You see your on-base, also. The (slugging percentage)? Some guys can’t slug. Arraez is not a slug guy, but he’s going to get doubles, though. He’s going to get on base. And I don’t think anybody wants to face him with guys on base.”
‘Who is this kid?’
Orioles starter Tyler Wells remembers when he first saw Luis Arraez in the Twins minor league system years ago: Listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds with an exuberant personality.
“I was like, ‘Who is this guy over there eating a full bag of chips and drinking a two-liter of soda? I’m like, ‘Who is this kid?’” Wells said. And they were like, ‘Oh, that’s Arraez.’ He was loud. And if you didn’t know him, he kind of seemed abrasive.”
Wells and Arraez ended up playing together – and rehabbing injuries together – for years in the Twins system. They became good friends. And when they faced off for the first time in the majors last year, Arraez smiled and nodded at Wells, who responded with a wink before throwing a pitch.
“Once you got to know him, dude, he was the most lovable guy there ever was,” Wells said. “Probably my favorite thing about him is whenever you look at him, it’s like, ‘never judge a book by its cover.’ Because that guy rakes.”
Ng said she traded for the bat, but she knew of the personality, and felt it would fit into the Marlins’ clubhouse.
“This guy has a tremendous passion for the game. He loves every minute on the field,” Ng said. “You can tell that, and he exudes that on the field and off the field. He has been just such an incredible presence for the rest of our club.”
Wells said he’s been watching Arraez’s pursuit of .400 and, for his buddy and for the sport, he hopes he gets it, or at least stays close all year.
“If there is anyone that can do it in the big leagues, it is him. He’s the best hitter I have ever seen as far as pure skill to hit a baseball,” Wells said. “And he’s about as good of a dude to do it, too. He’s such a good role model for the game of baseball, just how he is as a person off the field and how he is on the field.”
Can Luis Arraez finish season at .400?
Until Luis Arraez’s average dips into the .350s or so, there will be a sustained spotlight on his average. He knows that. His hitting coach, Brown, knows it, too. Brown grimaces when asked if Arraez could hit .400.
“I tell him that he should hit .500 if he swings at more strikes and lets balls go. I do. I challenge him every day,” Brown said. “Because he can hit everything. He knows it. But sometimes they put it in places where they know he’s not going to get hits, and he still swings at it. If he can lay off those, he could hit .500.”
Yes, .500 is a little extreme; .400 may be, too. There’s no question, however, that Luis Arraez has raised eyebrows as to how his game plays, thrusting himself into the national baseball discussion. To the point that some, like Smoltz, think Arraez’s success may lead to more players eschewing launch angles for spraying the ball all over the field.
“Potentially. I think people are starting to understand the value of it. I’ve been in the game a long time, and I’ve seen the game go through phases. This type of hitter has always been attractive to me,” Ng said.
“The idea that we made this acquisition, and he would be flirting with .400, I’m not sure any of us could have imagined that. But we are incredibly excited for him, excited for us.”
Dan Connolly is an MLB Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.