Ted Williams was MLB’s last player to hit .400 when he finished with a .406 AVG in 143 games as a 22-year-old in 1941 while playing for the Red Sox. What’s crazy about Williams’ feat is not only did he NOT win the American League MVP award that year (NYY’s Joe DiMaggio did with a .357 AVG), but that was just Williams’ third season in the majors. You want to talk about getting snubbed, Williams finished with a better AVG, more home runs (37 / 30), more WAR (10.4 / 9.4) and a better OPS (1.287 / 1.083) than DiMaggio… but perhaps that’s a discussion for another time.
Overall, only 20 players have reached the .400 mark all-time, including five who have done so more than once. In a nutshell… hitting .400 is very rare, and even the chances of such a thing happening in 2020 are quite slim. Heck, the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger flirted with .400 into his 48th game last season, and there were folks in the industry that believed he had a chance through a full 162. However, in reality, Bellinger had no shot. His last game with a .400 AVG came on May 21, and by June 15, he was hitting (only) .355, before ending the regular season with a .305 AVG. The pressure is just too much to handle, and though Bellinger’s 9.1 WAR resulted in an NL MVP award… the truth is he was never close to achieving the magical .400 season.
In regards to the Braves, only Hugh Duffy — an outfielder for the Boston Reds from 1891-1900 — has ever finished a season with at least a .400 AVG when he hit .440 in 125 games in 1894 — an incredible season that also featured a league-leading 237 hits, 51 doubles, 18 home runs, and a 1.196 OPS. Duffy’s slash-line was insane (.440/.502/.694).
Although looking at more recent players, the Braves’ all-time list quickly falls below the .400 threshold. There was outfielder Rico Carty who hit .366 in 1970; and a 36-year-old Chipper Jones who finished with a .364 AVG in 2008 — the best AVG in MLB that season and the highest of his career. However, that was Jones’ AVG through a full season. During his first 60 games, Jones was able to hold up a .400 AVG, as he slashed .419/.504/.676 with 15 home runs during that span.
But in an era where striking out 35% of the time is not uncommon, is a .400 AVG through 60 games possible anymore? With only 60 games on the docket in 2020, are there any current Braves’ hitters who have a chance? Probably not, but we can at least look at the team’s current top qualified hitters from last season and see if they could, like Bellinger, give it a run.
The following players were the Braves’ top hitters (via AVG) from the 2019 season, who also recorded at least 500 plate appearances.
Best AVG— .319 (2013)
The Braves’ first baseman is a career .293 hitter through 10 seasons thus far and the team’s best chance at finishing with something as crazy as a .400 AVG in a 60-game season, but even he has never come close to such an accomplishment.
Of Freeman’s nine full seasons in the majors, twice he has somewhat seriously flirted with a .400 AVG, though each time it only lasted through his first 17 games. In 2014, when he posted an end-of-season AVG of .288, Freeman made it to April 19 batting .413, thanks to his then 5-game hitting streak. However, after going 3-for-4 in a win over the NY Mets, Freeman fell into a mini-slump and wound up hitless in four-straight games, going 0-for-17 with seven strikeouts. That rough stretch dropped his AVG all the way down to .338, and the highest Freeman was able to push it back up to during that season was .357… which happened to be the very next game when he picked up three hits in four tries in a win over the Reds. Freeman entered Game 61 of the ’14 season with a .288 AVG (eh… not quite .400).
Freeman also danced around a .400 AVG during his first 17 games in 2017 — a season in which he finished hitting .307. In the second game of what ended up being a 10-game hitting streak, Freeman went 1-for-2 with three walks in an extra-inning loss versus the Phillies on April 22. The .500 AVG that night pushed his season AVG from .397 to .400. However, an 0-for-3 performance in Freeman’s very next game dropped it back down to .381. A 2-for-4 line against the Mets three days later got him up to .388 for the season, but Freeman’s AVG would never reach that mark again. Through his first 60 games in ’17, Freeman carried a .316 AVG (better… but still 84 points away from .400)
Don’t get me wrong; Freeman is one of the best at making contact, illustrated by his 30-game hitting streak during the 2016 season that lasted from August 24 to September 28. But even then, Freeman wasn’t making contact at a .400 clip (his AVG during that stretch was .384). I’m not saying he couldn’t do it, and this isn’t to say he hasn’t hit .400 during any random 60-game stretch of a season (I haven’t looked at his rolling AVGs through each season). Still, despite being perhaps the top candidate on the Braves to finish 2020 with a .400 AVG, it’s more than likely an unrealistic longshot that he does it from start to finish this season.
Ronald Acuna Jr.
Best AVG— .293 (2018)
Despite posting a healthy AVG in each of his first two big-league seasons, Acuna just isn’t currently the type of hitter right now to end the year with a .400 AVG. He’s still a bit too streaky, and so far, Acuna’s longest hit streak stands at just 11 games. Although it was one hell of an 11-game hitting streak, as he slashed .467/.529/1.067 with eight home runs and 15 RBI during that stint (which started on August 8 and ended on August 18 during the 2018 season). The thing about Acuna is that when he’s hot… opposing pitchers might as well pitch around him. Heck, last April, Acuna hit .500 over a 9-game stretch (April 8-18), slugging four homers and posting a 1.558 OPS(!). As he matures more as a big leaguer, maybe he could become capable of hitting .400 during his first 60 games of a season.
However, so far, he hasn’t come close. The sample sizes are quite small, but Acuna’s best 60-game stretch to begin a season came last year when he hit .280 through the Braves’ first 60 games. Although, as we know, Acuna finished the year well short of .400 (.280 AVG), and in fact, he never got higher than a .327 AVG throughout the entire 2019 season (a mark he reached after 16 games, on April 16).
The 2018 season — so far Acuna’s best year in terms of end-of-season AVG — isn’t much better. Acuna messed around with .400 during his first half-dozen games, but by Game 7 his AVG fell from .417 to .345 after an 0-for-5 performance against the Mets on May 2 (remember he didn’t debut until April 25 that season).
The fact is, Acuna struck out 188 times in 626 at-bats last season (a K-rate of 26.3%), which isn’t bad at all for a guy who also came just three stolen bases away from a 40/40 year. But Acuna and Freeman are different guys at the plate, and I’m not so sure a pure-contact approach would do him much better anyways. Although you never know what could happen in such a shortened season.
Best AVG— .295 (2019)
Perhaps the most improved Braves’ regular in the lineup over the last two seasons, Albies raised his AVG by 34 points from 2018 to 2019, as well as increased his walk-rate by about 2.5% (or 18 more walks throughout his ’19 season). However, like Acuna, Albies is still too aggressive at the plate to maintain enough elite contact for a .400 AVG.
Albies never touched .300 during the 2017 season, when he hit .286 overall in the first 57 games of his career. And though he did top out at .328 through his first 15 games in 2018, by the time he had completed 60 games, Albies’ AVG was down to .263. Last season was the second baseman’s best bet, as he hit the ground running and pushed his AVG up to .500 after five games; but four games later, he was down to .400, and by Game 60 his AVG sat at just .261.
Regardless, Albies put together two impressive hitting streaks in 2019: one in August (8-straight games) and one in September (9 games). The former featured a .500 AVG, and during the latter Albies hit .353, showing that at least in short bursts, he can post some video game numbers.
But hitting .400 through 60 games means posting video game numbers for a rather long period, and right now, that’s not Albies. However, I’m sure he’s just fine with his Silver Slugger award from last season and his NL-best 189 hits.