Saturday afternoon David Wright went 4-6 with a homer and three RBIs to propel the Mets to a 9-3 win over the Marlins. In his last four games Wright has gone 11-21 (.524) to raise his average 28 points. After 112 ABs, Wright sits with a .402 average. Without actually doing the research, I am going to proclaim this as the latest point in the season any qualified Mets hitter has ever had a .400 AVG.
Prior to the start of the season, we all hoped that the new dimensions of Citi Field would help Wright get back close to the offensive levels he displayed between 2005-2008, when he averaged a .311/.394/.534 line over 2,765 PA. Nowhere in our wildest dreams did we imagine that Wright might turn in a career year, instead. Now we can (almost) legitimately wonder:
Can Wright hit .400 for the entire season?
Batting average used to be the primary statistic to rate hitters. While it no longer holds the same place in the hearts and minds of baseball fans, there is still something magical about a .300 AVG while a .400 AVG remains the sports’ Holy Grail. If George Brett (.390) couldn’t make .400 in 1980 and Rod Carew (.388) fell short in 1977, what chance does any mere mortal batter have?
An important thing to realize is that the length of the season is what makes a .400 AVG a near impossibility. Yesterday, 65 batters hit .400 or better for the day. Expand that time frame to the season to date and only two players (Wright and Josh Hamilton) clear the .400 mark.
The closest anyone has come to hitting .400 in a season was Tony Gwynn, when he batted .394 in 1994. As you probably know, 1994 was a strike-shortened year, in which Gwynn had just 475 PA. It’s anybody’s guess how he would have finished the season in 1994 if there were no strike. But it’s unlikely that he would have raised his average six points over his final 200 or so PA.
Ted Williams is the last player to hit .400 over an entire season, when he batted .406 in 1941, his third year in the majors. Let’s take a look and see how Williams was able to accomplish the feat. There were four categories where Williams excelled that season. He had a:
The fewer ABs you have, the greater chance that you have to hit .400 over any length of time. Williams had 456 ABs in 1941. Compare that to the 616 that Carew had in 1977. Williams had so few ABs because he drew so many walks, a league-leading 147 in 1941.
Another key to hitting .400 is to limit strikeouts, as it’s impossible to get a hit when you strike out. Williams always had a great batting eye and his 4.5 K% in 1941 was a career-best. He fanned just 27 times that season. Additionally, he hit 37 HR in 1941, also a league-leading total.
Strikeouts and home runs are so important because they are not included in BABIP. We know that most batters will have a BABIP under .350 – only 12 out of 145 qualified hitters posted a mark .350 or greater last year, with Adrian Gonzalez’ .380 being the top mark in the majors. In fact, only four players have posted a BABIP over .400 since 1942.
If you are going to hit over .400 you need to excel in the two areas – home runs and strikeouts – not included in BABIP. In 1980, Brett was able to post an average 22 points above his BABIP due to his low strikeout (22)-high HR (24) mix. Meanwhile, Carew failed in 1977 because while he posted a .408 BABIP, he had just 14 HR compared to 55 Ks.
So, how is Wright doing so far in these four important categories?
Carew’s .408 BABIP in 1977 is the single highest mark since 1942, so it’s safe to say that Wright will not finish the year with a .451 mark. But we should also recall that Wright had a .394 BABIP in 2009, the 13th-best mark since 1942. So he is certainly capable of posting an extra-high mark in the category.
Wright’s BB and K numbers are currently career-best marks – numbers he will have to improve upon going forward if he is to have any shot at hitting .400 for the year. And he will also have to pick up the HR pace, something he should have a decent chance of doing. Wright is on pace for 20 HR this year, a mark he has topped five times in his career.
At his current rate, Wright will finish with 20 HR and 88 Ks. Let’s say he improves in both categories and finishes with 30 HR and 75 Ks. Let’s also assume that he finishes with 550 ABs. Wright would need 220 hits to finish the year with a .400 AVG and he would need a .427 BABIP. Let’s say he goes absolutely crazy and finishes with 35 HR and 65 Ks. In 550 ABs he would need to post a .422 BABIP to reach a .400 AVG.
We can see that there is virtually no way that Wright can bat .400 in a season in which he has 550 ABs. It simply requires a batter to strike out as little as possible. While Wright can post the BABIP necessary to put him in the discussion for a .400 AVG, his K rate shoots down whatever hopes he might have. His only chance is to top Carew’s record for BABIP while also adding considerably to his BB rate, in order to limit his ABs. Fewer at-bats is the only way to realistically limit his strikeouts. But as he already is posting a career-high BB%, how realistic is it, really?
The bottom line is to enjoy Wright’s .400 AVG now because there’s no chance to see it in late September. His career high in AVG is the .325 mark he posted in 2007. Updated ZiPS projects Wright to finish with a .311 AVG in 2012. So, forget .400 – let’s see if Wright can reach .330, instead. In our 550 AB, 20 HR, 88 K pace, Wright will need a .367 BABIP to clear .330 for the year.