You probably know this, but in case you’re new to baseball, the last player to hit .400 for an entire season was Ted Williams, who, in 1941, hit a staggering .406. Since then, only two players have even managed to hit .390 for a season, Tony Gwynn in 1994 and George Brett in 1980. Even then, both those guys accomplished their feats in shorten seasons, with Gwynn only playing in 110 games due to the players’ strike and Brett playing in only 117 due to injury. Needless to say, its very unlikely we see a .400 hitter anytime soon.
But only slightly less difficult than managing a .400 batting average is managing a .400 batting average on balls in play. Since strikeouts started to be tracked as an official statistic (1910 for the National League and 1913 for the American League) there have been only 18 .400 BABIP hitters compared to nine .400 hitters. As you would expect, there is some overlap between these two groups — six of those nine .400 hitters had a .400 BABIP as well. As you would also expect, the majority of the .400 BABIP seasons occurred in the 1910s, when fielders wore slightly more dexterous shoes on their catching hands or in the early 1920s when your utility infielder was hitting .300. Of those 18 seasons with .400 BABIP, only six have happened since 1925 and only four since Ted Williams hit .400 in 1941 (he did not have a .400 BABIP that year). Those four seasons belonged to the following:
Roberto Clemente in 1967
Rod Carew in 1977
Manny Ramirez in 2000
Jose Hernandez in 2002 wait what
Those first three are not all surprising. Carew and Clemente are both Hall-of-Famers, and Manny Ramirez certainly had a Hall-of-Fame-caliber career. All three finished their careers with BABIPs of .330 or better, with Carew’s mark coming in at an astonishing .359. All three also had spectacular seasons in the years above, with Clemente and Carew probably having their best seasons, and Manny only falling shy of that mark due to injuries shortening his year.
And then there is Jose Hernandez. Jose had a .404 BABIP to go along with his .288 batting average. That’s not a typo. In 2002 Jose Hernandez struck out 188 times, which was, at the time, one shy of Bobby Bonds’ single-season record. Of course, by modern standards, that doesn’t seem like a truly ridiculous amount — three different players named Chris (or Kris) have done it in the past three seasons alone. But in 2002, that was a really impressive number.
But as we know, strikeouts aren’t much worse for a hitter than any other out. Despite the strikeouts, Hernandez had a career year for the 2002 Brewers, leading the team with 4.5 WAR. Most of the time, a marginal infielder having a better than expect season for a really bad team is about as forgettable as a 4-WAR season can be, but in this case, it was a truly fascinating season.
Of course, unlike Ted Williams and his .400 batting average, Hernandez likely won’t be the most recent .400 BABIPer for that long. In 2004, Ichiro hit .399 and eight other players have BABIPed over .390 in the 13 seasons since Hernandez joined that exclusive club. Odubel Herrera was one stray grounder a month away from hitting .400 just this past year. But for right now, after Jose finishes a long day of teaching Baltimore farmhands how to strike out a ton in Norfolk, he can sit back with his beverage of choice and compare himself to Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, and Manny Ramirez. Not half bad.
Jaack is a pseudonym bestowed by one Jeff Sullivan upon a humble Fangraphs participant. His interests include Barry Bonds, Rutherford B. Hayes, and very bad baseball players.