How Luis Arraez is making batting average cool again

He hits, and he hits, and he hits, a seemingly endless parade of lashes to left field and peas up the chute and bolts yanked to right, and it all looks so easy, so natural, so elementary to Luis Arraez — like he’s playing a different game than everyone else. Just look at him: hunched over in the batter’s box, short and squat, ready to unspool his compact swing — on pitches north and south, east and west, inside the strike zone and out, fast, slow and in between — and feather a line drive to some unpatrolled square foot among the 120,000 or so that comprise a baseball field.

He might as well be a time traveler, sent here from a century ago, when batting average was king and home runs were the domain of Babe Ruth and a legion of lesser-thans. Arraez is as anomalous today as Ruth was then. In baseball’s all-or-nothing world, he is everything.

Everything that has happened in baseball during its seismic change over the last two decades conspired to rid the game of someone like Arraez — to overwhelm him with velocity and spin, to defensively position him into oblivion, to prey on his lack of raw power, to punish him for not worshiping at the altar of launch angle. And yet he remains — and, this year, thrives.

“I love hits,” Arraez said, and for someone who makes his living swinging a baseball bat, this sort of statement should not qualify as a surprise, or sound out of place, or register as archaic, except that it’s 2022, the league-wide batting average hovers around .240 and one in every three plate appearances ends in a strikeout, walk or home run. The base hit is an anachronism.

This doesn’t make much sense to Arraez. He is 25 years old, in his fourth big league season and his ninth in professional baseball, and he’s here because of hits. He has compiled them everywhere he’s gone: As a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, where he batted .348 after signing as an amateur out of Venezuela for $40,000; as a 19-year-old in Low-A, where he hit .347; as a 21-year-old across two minor league affiliates, where he returned from a torn ACL that he worried would end his career and needed contact lenses to correct his vision and still managed to post a .310 average; and now in the major leagues, where his .320 career average is the highest for a player with at least 1,000 at-bats over his first four seasons since Ichiro Suzuki (.339) and Albert Pujols (.333) from 2001 to 2004.

“He’s not doing it in an age where guys pitch to contact,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s doing it in an era where the positioning is better. The pitchers’ stuff is better. It’s more challenging to get hits today than it ever has been. That can be frustrating. It’s not easy. And he simplifies it, even though there’s nothing simple about it in practice or in theory. There’s no easy way to do what he does.”

What Arraez does — and what he’s doing better now than ever before — requires a combination of elite bat-to-ball skills, the ability to hit bad pitches and a maniacal routine that supercharges both.

Hitting always came naturally to Arraez. He started playing competitive baseball at 8 years old and remembers hitting around .800. Though such gaudy numbers continued into his teenage years, he never found himself among the seven- or even six-figure prospects because he resembled a Weeble and scouts had trouble projecting a position for him. He wasn’t mobile enough for shortstop, wasn’t powerful enough for first base. What he was, though, was an exceptional hitter with uncanny bat control.

Author: Lucy Green