Orioles

How much should O's fans care about Iglesias' chase for .400?

Orioles
USA TODAY Sports

511. 56. 762. 73.

.406.

Baseball fans hold certain,unbreakable records with a reverence unmatched in American sports. Everybody knows that 56 is the number of games in Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak, and 511 is Cy Young's wins.

Ted Williams' 1941 batting average of .406 isn't technically the Major League record. Baseball-Reference lists Hugh Duffy's .4397 as the record, set in 1894. If you check since 1901, when the more "modern" era began, the record was set in...1901, with Nap LaJoie's .4265.

Williams' 1941 mark is 17th-best all-time, but it may as well be the record for how much it gets brought up. Every year, a number of players start out hot enough to get fans whispering about if this is the year somebody can top .400 for the first time in nearly eight decades.

Entering Wednesday's game, Orioles shortstop Jose Iglesias looked like 2020's surprising contender. He was batting .405 in early September!

Of course, that doesn't mean as much as it does most years, considering 2020's truncated schedule. Iglesias has played just 21 games. "Small" doesn't even begin to cover how tiny this sample size is compared to most players in most Septembers. But again, this isn't most seasons.

There have been players who have hit .400 over the course of two months, but it's rarer than you might think. Only three players have done it in their first 60 games of any season since 1994, and they are all Hall of Famers -- Tony Gwynn, Larry Walker and Chipper Jones.

So, if Iglesias does manage the feat, he'll be in rare company. But it's not like the small -- again, heavy emphasis on small -- sample size has led to dozens of players challenging for .400.

 

Even in a shortened season, his 87 plate appearances don't qualify him for the batting title. But even with Major League Baseball only a handful of weeks into its season, Iglesias is one of just two hitters with at least 80 plate appearances to be above the .400 mark.

The question of whether or not we care about this chase can be answered in two ways: how impressive a feat it would be, and if he can even do it.

It would definitely be an impressive feat, though no one will ever confuse it for being on the same level as Williams, or any other .400 average in a full season. But if you consider the level of competition Iglesias is facing -- pitchers topped out at 90 mph and the slider hadn't even been invented when Lajoie set his record -- then you could argue a .400 average in 2020 is just as difficult, if not even harder than a full season in the first half of the 20th century.

But is it even doable for Iglesias?

His stats this season are unusually unique. His .405 average comes with a league-leading .464 BABIP, which is no surprise when you realize he's only walked once this season. He has also yet to homer, though he does have a decent .557 slugging percentage thanks to his 12 doubles.

In the era of shifting and specialized bullpens, it's more difficult than ever to hit for a high average. The league average in 2020 is .245, meaning a mark above .400 is higher than the MLB average than it has ever been. That makes the chase harder, though Wednesday night against the Mets, Iglesias enjoyed his seventh-straight multi-hit game to keep his average at .405.

The Orioles went on to lose 9-4 thanks to a poor start from John Means and a rough night from the bullpen. Ryan Mountcastle continued his torrid start with a multi-hit game of his own -- maybe one day we'll be asking the .400 dollar question about him?

Either way, the O's are now 16-20 and fading fast from their surprise early-season contention. But these statistical anomalies are one of the few fun results of a very short, very weird season.

Iglesias' jersey won't be headed to Cooperstown if he hits .400 in 50 games, so perhaps it's not worth investing in this particular chase. That question can only be answered by each individual fan. If it happens, it will be more of a fun anecdote than an exciting, record-setting chase, and Iglesias' average would forever have a 2020-sized asterisk.

But in a year like 2020, and for a rebuilding team like the Orioles with little chance of contending, it would certainly make for a fun, engaging storyline. What's worth caring about more than that?