Dee Gordon is batting over .400 right now and everyone is talking about it. It’s something that a major league baseball player hasn’t accomplished in 74 years, when Ted Williams hit an astonishing .406. Williams came to the plate 606 times in 1941, walking 147 times and collecting just 185 hits. That seems like a small number when you think about someone hitting .406.
What do Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig have in common, besides being Hall of Fame players. They didn’t hit .400 once in their careers, not once did five of the greatest players to ever play the game reach the mark. Even the hit king, Pete Rose never hit over .348. You could name off the top-10 players to ever play the game and only two of them hit .400 or better, Williams and Ty Cobb. A .400 batting average has been achieved by 20 players just 28 times in 146 years, with 15 of those coming in the 19th century. You probably get the point, it’s very rare especially these days.
The last player to come close was the late Tony Gwynn, who hit .394 in 1994 and there’s a good chance he would have hit the untouchable number if it wasn’t for a strike that year. It goes to show how difficult this is, the strike started on August 11th of that year, which means there was still 45 games left. We will never know if Gwynn could have stayed hot through the grind of September, but it’s an interesting thought.
Gwynn had this to say about to the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2002 about that season, “I’d have hit .400, no doubt in my mind. I believe it. Ask anybody who saw me hitting. I was locked in. I was healthy, first and foremost. And, two, when I got a pitch to hit, I hit it. I didn’t foul it off or pop it up. I hit it away from somebody. Nobody’s hitting the ball now the way I hit it back then. I would have loved to get into September to find out what it’s like.”
Williams was hitting exactly .400 at the end of the 34th game and Gwynn was hitting .407, Gordon is hitting an almost unheard of .425. Gordon is on pace to hit around .432, which would break the hit record (on pace to finish with 295 hits) and come close to having the highest batting average in major league history. Hugh Duffy hit .440 in 1894 and Tip O’Neill hit .435 in 1887.
Now that I’ve outlined just how hard it it, we come back to the main question, can Dee Gordon actually achieve the unthinkable. We thought that the no one would ever hit for the Triple Crown again, and Miguel Cabrera proved everyone wrong. But it’s a fact that Gordon is no Cabrera, and if you asked anyone the question, who’s hitting .400 right now, most people would guess Miguel Cabrera.
What makes Gordon so good is his approach, which is a simple one, put the ball in play and run like the wind. He did strike out 107 times last season, which is way too much for a leadoff batter. This season he’s struck out just 17 times and is on pace to strikeout 81 times, which is a vast improvement over last year. If Gordon can continue to consistently make contact and avoid the strikeout, I think he has a slim chance to achieve a .400 batting average. You can almost see a Tony Gwynn type approach from Gordon this year.
Just to put it in perspective if Gordon has the 695 at-bats that he’s on pace to finish with, he will have to at-least finish with 278 hits to reach the .400 mark. That’s with him playing in all 162 games. Now lets look at with Gordon playing in 150 games. If he has 645 at-bats then it would take 258 hits to reach .400, which would give him the second most hits in a single-season just behind Ichiro Suzuki’s 262. Ichiro hit .372 that season.
To be honest, I don’t think Gordon can keep up this type of consistency throughout the season, but I will admit we’ve seen stranger things happen and that’s what makes baseball fun.
He reminds me of the 2000 Darin Erstad, who won the batting title (.355) and finished the season with 240 hits. Erstad was just a mediocre player that had one great season and never hit over .295 again.
It’s fair to say that Gordon has been the bright spot for a Miami Marlins team that has struggled at times this season. We still have 128 games to go and the pressure will only increase as the media and fans recognize what Gordon is trying to achieve.
“I hope somebody hits .400 soon. Then people can start pestering that guy with questions about the last guy to hit .400.”
– Ted Williams