Ted Williams was the last batter to hit above .400 for a season when he finished the 1941 season with an impressive .406 mark. Tony Gwynn hit .394 in 1994, and George Brett hit .390 in 1980, but that’s the closest any hitter has come since Williams. With a 60-game MLB season in 2020, there is a higher possibility a hitter might reach the lofty average.
In the last 30 years, four players have been at or above the .400 mark 60 games into the season. They include: Chipper Jones in 2008 at .409; Tony Gwynn in 1997 at .403; Larry Walker in 1997 at .417; and Paul O’Neill in 1994 at .417. It’s plausible that it might happen this season, even though it wouldn’t officially be considered record-setting due to the abbreviated schedule. It will still be fun to talk about as the season progresses. Here’s a look at some of the most likely hitters to threaten the .400 mark in the 2020 season.
Cody Bellinger is the youngest threat to hit .400
Cody Bellinger is heading into his fourth season in MLB but has already made a huge impression winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 and NL MVP in 2019. Last season Bellinger had his best year at the plate where he hit .305 and drove in 47 home runs.
While .305 is definitely a long way from hitting .400, Bellinger is a candidate to break that mark in 2020 because he proved he can hit for a high average for a sustained period of time in 2019. During one stretch of 49 games, Bellinger hit for an impressive .404 average. With that recent track record, the Dodgers star might just be able to do it in the pandemic-shortened season.
2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich could pull it off
Christian Yelich is an obvious choice. After winning the NL batting title in back-to-back seasons, Yelich has proven he can hit for a high average over a sustained period of time. Last season’s .329 average was the best of his career, and he could easily build on that in 2020.
In 2018, when Yelich won NL MVP, he hit for a .326 average for the year but was buoyed by a mid-summer performance where he hit at a .365 clip during one 60-day stretch. To achieve a high average like that during the middle of the hot summer could bode well for Yelich in a shortened season when he’s coming in fresh.
Daniel Murphy is a long shot to hit .400
Daniel Murphy seems like an odd one on this list, so let’s be clear, he is a long shot. But like the others, the 35-year-old has proven in the past that’s he’s capable of hitting for a high average over a long period. Last season’s .279 average was the lowest in his 11-year-career, but Murphy is only a few seasons removed from when he was a top-five hitter in back-to-back seasons.
In 2016, when Murphy finished second for the batting title with a .346 average, he had one hot 60-game stretch where he hit for an impressive .374 average during that time. Murphy will also benefit in 2020 from the DH addition in the NL so he’ll get more at-bats. If he can somehow manage to recapture that form of 2016, anything is possible.
Mike Trout is Mike Trout
You can’t include any hitting list without Mike Trout. The three-time AL MVP has put up some staggering numbers in his eight full seasons in MLB. While he’s known for his power (45 homers in 2019), Trout is a career .305 hitter.
In 2013, Trout had the second-highest batting average of his career at .323. More importantly, when it comes to hitting .400, he had one 60-game stretch that season where he hit .385. With the 2020 campaign shortened, expect Trout to be laser-focused throughout the season and potentially be in the chase for .400 at season’s end.
Jose Altuve is best candidate to hit .400
If there’s anyone to place bets on hitting .400 for the 2020 season it’s Jose Altuve. The diminutive Houston Astros second baseman is one of the best in the business at the plate and has won three batting titles in his career in 2014, 2016, and 2017.
What makes Altuve an even more serious threat to breaking .400 in 2020 is he’s done it before. Well, sort of. In Altuve’s MVP season back in 2017, when he finished with a .346 average, he hit for a remarkable .420 average over a 60-game stretch, which lasted from May 27 through August 8. That mark tied for the highest average by any player for a 75-day stretch dating back to 1904.
Whether or not Altuve or any of the other hitters is up the challenge, we’re about to find out. It will be fun to see if any of these guys or someone else can manage to get hot early and sustain it for the shortened 60-game season. And if it happens, they may not find their names in the record books, but they will be an interesting answer to a trivia question in a year that was historic on and off the field.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.