Araeze’s Quest for the 4% Dream of ‘Mutation’

Major League Baseball (MLB) is buzzing about this player right now. It’s Luis Araez, a left fielder for the Miami Marlins.

The 26-year-old is from Venezuela. Venezuela is almost the only country in South America where baseball is more popular than soccer.

Araez joined the Minnesota Twins as an international amateur free agent in 2013. He’s been in the big leagues since 2019, turning heads with his precision hitting. After batting .334 in his rookie season, he won the American League (AL) batting title in 2022 with a .316 batting average and 49 RBIs, surpassing home run king Aaron Judge (.311).

He also edged out Shohei Ohtani (Japan) for the newly created AL Utility Silver Slugger award. A utility player is a player who can play two or more positions, and Araez played first base, second base, third base, and designated hitter last season.

Araujo joined the Marlins via trade ahead of this season, and he’s been hitting like crazy this year, which is why I’m writing this article.

Through 14 games this season, Araez is batting .382. In modern baseball, a .400 average is considered “godlike” territory. He was above .400 two days ago, but a 1-for-14 slump in his last three games has dropped him back down to .300, but that’s a number that could climb back up to .400 at any time.

Arajuez is among the best in the league when it comes to plate discipline, going 3-for-3 since his rookie season, as we discussed earlier.

He has struck out in 5.3% of all his at-bats this season, the lowest percentage of any hitter in the league. He also leads the league in swings and misses at 7.4%. In short, he’s very good at putting the ball in play with his bat.

If he leads the league in batting average this season, he’ll win the National League (NL) batting title this year after winning the AL last year. The only other player to win batting titles in both leagues is DJ LeMahieu (New York Yankees), 안전놀이터 and even he didn’t do it two years in a row.

LeMahieu led the NL in batting average (.348) with the Colorado Rockies in 2016, and then won the AL batting title (.364) while wearing a Yankees uniform during the COVID-19 shortened season in 2020.

Second only to his batting precision, he’s lanky for a major leaguer at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds. He’s far from a slugger, with just 15 home runs in five seasons, and he’s on pace for just one this season.

After hitting 31 doubles last season, he has 15 this year. He has a .466 on-base percentage and is 13th in OPS (.897).

In April, Arajuez achieved the first “Hit for the Cycle” (hitting a single, double, triple, and home run all in one game) in team history against the Philadelphia Phillies. His only home run of the season came in that game.

MLB fans are eager to see if Arajuez will continue down the path of being one of the league’s best switch-hitters, or if he will become a mid-to-long range hitter with long ball power.

The Last Four Hitters of a Legend

Even if Arajuez doesn’t hit the ball over the fence, he’ll be immortalized in MLB history if he hits .400 this season.

But it’s not going to be an easy road. History shows that most attempts to hit .400 at this point in their careers have ended in failure.

According to, since 1941, there have been eight players with a .403 batting average 61 games into a season: Ted Williams in 1941 (0.403), Stan Musial (0.408) and Williams (0.407) in 1948, Paul O’Neill in 1994 (0.411), Larry Walker (0.416) and Tony Gwynn (0.405) in 1997, and Chipper Jones (0.418) in 2008.

Of those, only Ted Williams in 1941 finished a season with a .440 ERA, meaning that if Arajuez goes over .440, it will be an 82-year wait.

Williams, who played for the Boston Red Sox, was at the peak of his powers in that year’s All-Star Game, when he hit a come-from-behind three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, leading the American League to a 7-5 victory. He also hit 37 home runs.

His quest for quadruple figures came to a dramatic end on the final day of the 1941 season.

Heading into the season finale, a doubleheader, Williams’ batting average was .39955, which, when rounded up, was good for a .440 average. With four-hit glory automatically coming if he didn’t play in the final two games, the manager took him out of the lineup out of respect.

Williams went to the manager and said, “I don’t want to have to do that,” and went into the game.

Williams went 6-for-8 in the final two games and finished the season with a legendary .406 batting average.

Unfortunately, the MVP of the season went to rival Joe DiMaggio (New York Yankees), who had a 56-game hitting streak, but Williams’ 1941 season is immortalized in MLB history as a time of record-setting.

Williams is a hitter you can’t talk about without talking about MLB. In his 19 seasons with the Red Sox alone, he hit over .300 in all but 1959 (.254), a stellar accomplishment that came after two major gaps.

Were those gaps due to injury? No. Surprisingly, they were gaps due to service.

Williams left the field abruptly, batting .406 in 1941 and .356 in 1942. He did so to enlist in the U.S. military, which was fighting World War II.

Enlisting as a private in the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1942, he applied for aviation cadet training and was commissioned as an ensign in 1944. He served as a flight instructor and was at Pearl Harbor awaiting deployment at the end of the war before returning to the baseball field as World War II drew to a close. In his mid-20s, at the peak of his career, he missed three full seasons because he was behind the controls of a fighter jet instead of a bat.

Williams’ military career didn’t end there; he returned to the field in 1946 and swung the bat for six seasons before answering the call of duty again in 1952.

On April 30 of that year, the Red Sox held a “Ted Williams Day” for Williams as he headed off to war, and he hit his only home run of the season and the 324th of his career. At the time, there were no guarantees that Williams would return to the field, much to the chagrin of fans.

Williams was in the line of fire during the Korean War, flying his own fighter jets to bomb Pyongyang and barely making a fuselage landing at Suwon Air Base after being hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire.

He went on to fly 37 combat missions as a fighter pilot for the Marines in 1952-53. Upon returning to the United States after more than a year of mobilization, Williams was immediately reinstated to the team.

He played the remaining 37 games of the 1953 season and put up monster numbers: a .407 batting average (in less than regulation at-bats), 13 home runs, and 34 RBIs. I find this fact more amazing than the fact that Williams hit .400.

For those of us who were part of the 6-25 War, Williams is truly a legend to remember.

‘Mr. Padre’ bemoans shortened season

When I think of the hitter who came closest to hitting .400 since Ted Williams, I think of Tony Gwynn.

Gwynn, who passed away from cancer in 2014, is one of MLB’s all-time great switch-hitters. He was an eight-time National League batting champion, with 3141 hits and 1138 RBIs, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007 with 97.6% of the vote.

Gwynn had such a precise bat that he never struck out more than 20 times in a season from the 1990 season until his retirement, and he reached 3000 hits in the fewest games (2284) of any hitter born after 1900.

He is known as “Mr. Padre” because he played exclusively for the San Diego Padres from 1982 to 2001. A statue of Gwynn stands in front of his home ballpark, Petco Park, and his address is named “19 Tony Gwynn Drive”.

The closest Gwynn ever came to hitting .400 was in 1994. On August 11, Gwynn had raised his batting average to .394.

But a players’ union strike shut down the league.

As a result, the 1994 MLB ended up with a shortened season. It was a missed opportunity for Gwynn, who had hit .450 in the final month of the season and was at the peak of his hitting powers. Gwynn was confident that “if the season had ended normally, I would have hit .400.”

At the time of the aforementioned 61-game stretch, the highest batting average was Chipper Jones’ .418 in 2008. Jones’ final grade that year was .364. Sustaining a .418 average is very difficult.

Aside from Gwynn at 0.394, the highest batting average after Williams is George Brett in 1980.

After hitting just .301 through May, his bat exploded in June and July, hitting in the high 4s, raising his average to .403 by August, but he stalled at .324 in September and eventually finished the season at .390.

Brett was a superstar for the Kansas City Royals. He played exclusively for the Royals from 1973 to 1993, winning the batting title three times.

He won the batting title in 1976, 1980, and 1990, making him the only player to win the batting title in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. He also has a World Series ring from his 1985 run at the top.

0 in the Japanese league, 1 in South Korea

Ichiro Suzuki’s best season batting average is .372, which he hit in 2004 for the Seattle Mariners. Ichiro’s career MLB batting average is .311.

In NPB, Japan’s professional baseball league, he hit as high as 0.385 in 1994 and 0.387 in 2000.

For reference, the Japanese NPB, which began in 1936 and has a history spanning more than 80 years, has never produced a four-hitter. Randy Barth of the Hanshin Tigers’ 0.389 in 1986 remains the highest mark.

What about South Korea? The KBO has had its only four-hitter since its inception, with Baek Incheon (MBC) in 1982. Although he only played 72 games in an 80-game mini-season, he still managed to hit an impressive .412.

Next up was Lee Jong-beom (Hae-tae) in 1994. He hit 0.393, but only four days in the actual season went over .400. In 1987, when Samsung’s Jang Hyo-jo won the batting title for the fourth time in his career and for the third year in a row, he hit .387.

In 2010, Lotte’s Lee Dae-ho won his seventh batting title, and his batting average was .364. In 2012, Kim Tae-gyun (Hanwha) dipped to 3.8 in mid-June, then climbed back up and stayed at 4.8 until August 3, but eventually finished the season at 0.363.

The most recent record to go over 3.8 was 0.381 by Eric Thames (NC) in 2015. Ma Hae-young’s (Lotte) 0.372 in 1999 and Choi Hyung-woo’s (Samsung) 0.376 in 2016 are also remembered as shining seasons

More recently, Lee Jung-hoo (Kiwoom) has been challenging for the quadruple digits, but it’s not easy: He hit 0.360 in 2021 and 0.349 in 2022.

The disappearance of the quadruple slugger has led to a variety of theories in the U.S., including “pitching quality has increased,” “shifts and other customized defenses have emerged,” and “hitting skills have declined.”

In his book Full House, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould likened the disappearance of the four-hitter to the evolution of life.

“As a species evolves, the within-species variance shrinks,” he writes, “and as baseball has evolved, the standard deviation between players has shrunk, and the result is that you don’t have a .400 hitter who is significantly above the league average.”

That’s what makes Arajuez’s performance all the more welcome. Can he break back into the quadruple digits?

If he does by the end of the season, I’ll be tuning into every Miami Marlins game to follow his historic journey.

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