Luis Arraez has Padres fans thinking batting titles again

May 23, 2024; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; San Diego Padres first baseman Luis Arraez (4) hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds in the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Arraez arrived in San Diego to much fanfare. The Padres welcomed him with open arms and put him atop their lineup. Now, he looks to make batting titles cool in San Diego again.

San Diegans got so spoiled. Tony Gwynn rolled out of bed and won batting titles for the Padres over a two-decade stretch. All in all, he won eight batting titles in his illustrious career, the first and last ones being 13 years apart. Winning batting titles was the norm here in San Diego.

He won so many batting titles, in fact, that the batting champion in the National League is officially known as the “Tony Gwynn National League Batting Champion.” He made winning batting titles cool, especially in San Diego.

I grew up always checking the newspaper for the batting leaders, making sure I saw “T. GWYNN, SD” in bold (since it was a local paper) near the top of the leaderboard. Being in any race like that is fun for baseball fans.

However, there has been a drought in San Diego regarding batting titles. Gwynn’s last title came in 1997. Only one Padres hitter, not Tony Gwynn, has won a batting title- Gary Sheffield in 1992. The Padres have not even had many close calls in the last 20 years.

Manny Machado finished fourth with a .298 average in 2022. That was the first time a Padres hitter had even finished inside the top five in batting in the NL since Mark Loretta finished third in 2004 at .335.

The modern game does not seem to value batting average as it once did. The league average for batting average during Gwynn’s last batting title in 1997 was .267. So far this year, it’s down to .240.

Now, the Padres have a new hope.

A.J. Preller traded for a player earlier this month that already has two batting titles to his name. Luis Arraez, while not Tony Gwynn, with one of the greatest combinations of place discipline, bat control, and work ethic we have ever seen in the history of baseball, is certainly a throwback. If you were to look at all current active MLB players playing in 2024 and were asked to identify the one that most resembles the game of Mr. Padre, it would likely be nearly unanimous in favor of Arraez.

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The Venezuela native offers an elite contact skill from left side of the plate. He walked more than he struck out both in 2022 and 2023, which is a very rare feat in the modern game. As mentioned, he’s also already done this before…twice, the last two years running, in fact. Not only that, he’s won a batting title for two different teams, one in the American League and one in the NL. Being in a race for a batting title doesn’t scare Arraez. It seems to make him better.

If he were to win another batting title with the Padres, he would become the first player ever to win a batting title for three different teams in three straight years. He’s already become the eighth player ever, and just third since 1942, to win a batting title in both leagues.

So, where does he stand this season?

Before arriving in San Diego, he was having something of a “down” year for the Marlins, at “just” .299. That’s understandable, given that the Marlins are going absolutely nowhere this season.

He seems like a man rejuvenated since arriving in San Diego. In 21 games in Friars brown and gold, he leads all NL hitters in that span with a .385 batting average. He’s even slugging much more, with a .462 slugging percentage that is almost 40 points higher than his career line.

He was even named NL Player of the Week following his hot stretch through Memorial Day weekend.

That puts his overall season average at .333. That ranks third in the National League, behind Shohei Ohtani (.336) and Mookie Betts (.335). He has closed the gap significantly. A good two games for him could push him into the lead spot. Certainly, the competition is stiff.

Whether or not the Padres will be in a tight playoff race come September remains to be seen. What does seem like it has staying power is Arraez’s pursuit of the 2024 NL batting title. That would be his third and the Padres’ first in 27 years.

Yes, it is very early to be talking batting titles, as the calendar has not even turned to June. However, given his track record of having won two in a row already, the conversation is worth having. Is Arraez going to be the first batting champion in San Diego since Mr. Padre himself? He’s certainly the best chance the Padres have had since that No. 19 was slapping every pitch he saw all over Jack Murphy Stadium those many years ago.

Either way, he is in the right city, playing in front of the right fans, to make batting average cool again.

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