Ichiro and Rod Carew’s favorite player? How Luis Arraez is making batting average cool again

He hits and he hits and he hits, a seemingly endless parade of whiplashes to left field and peas up the chute and bolts pulled to the right, and to Luis Arraez it all looks so simple, so natural, so elemental – like him it’s playing a different game than everyone else. Just look at him: hunched over in the batter’s box, small and stocky, ready to unwind his compact swing – in pitches north and south, east and west, in and out of the batting zone, fast, slow and in between – and driving Line them up to an unguarded square foot among the 120,000 or so that make up a baseball field.

He might as well be a time traveler sent here a century ago, when batting average was king and home runs were the domain of Babe Ruth and a legion of little ones. Arraez is as abnormal today as Ruth was then. In the all-or-nothing world of baseball, he’s everything.

Everything that has happened in baseball during its seismic changes over the past two decades has helped rid the game of someone like Arraez — overpowering him with speed and spin, beating him defensively, his lack of raw power exploit to punish him for not worshiping at the starting angle altar. And yet it remains – and this year it is thriving.

“I love hits,” Arraez said, and for someone who makes a living swinging a baseball bat, that sort of statement shouldn’t come as a surprise, or sound out of place, or be considered archaic except that it’s 2022, the League-wide batting average hovers around .240, and every third plate appearance ends in a strikeout, walk, or home run. The base hit is an anachronism.

That doesn’t make sense to Arraez. He’s 25 years old, in his fourth big league season and ninth in professional baseball, and he’s here for his accomplishments. He’s compiled them everywhere he’s gone: as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, where he batted at .348 after signing as an amateur from Venezuela for $40,000; as a 19-year-old in Low-A, where he hit .347; as a 21-year-old with two minor league members, where he was returning from a cruciate ligament tear that he feared would end his career and needed contact lenses to correct his vision, and still managed to average a .310 reach; and now in the major leagues, where his career .320 average is the highest for a player with at least 1,000 shots in his first four seasons since Ichiro Suzuki (.339) and Albert Pujols (.333) from 2001-2004.

“He’s not doing it at an age where guys are trying to make contact,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. “He’s doing it at a time when positioning is better. The pitcher stuff is better. It’s harder than ever to score now. That can be frustrating. It’s not easy, neither in practice nor in theory. There is no easy way to do what he does.”

What Arraez is doing — and what he’s doing now better than ever — requires a combination of top-notch bat-to-ball skill, the ability to hit poor pitches, and an insane routine that supercharges both.

Batting always came naturally to Arraez. He began playing competitive baseball at the age of 8 and recalls hitting around 800. Although these swanky numbers continued into his teenage years, he never found himself among the seven or even six figure prospects because he resembled a Weeble and Boy Scouts had trouble projecting a position for him. He wasn’t agile enough for a shortstop, wasn’t strong enough for first base. What he was, however, was an exceptional hitter with uncanny bat control.

Arraez, Baldelli said, has “gifted hand-eye coordination,” and his willingness to let balls travel deep into the zone and hit them across field is unparalleled. His 55 goals in midfield and left field this season rank only behind Rafael Devers of Boston. Arraez almost never swings and misses, with the second lowest percentage of swing shots at just 3.3% of courts, next to Cleveland outfielder Steven Kwan.

Perhaps most impressive is how his ability to convert pitches outside the rulebook’s hitting zone into positive results. The league average for such batted balls is .167. Arraez hits .318 on non-strikes. Despite his talent for turning bad into good, Arraez’s ability to control the zone has seen him walk more than he hits and lead the American League with a .427 on-base percentage. The Venn diagram of patient thugs who regularly drive stripe lines only has a handful of names in the middle.

“That’s not the goal for a lot of people,” Baldelli said. “As much as we want to pretend it is, it isn’t. And even if they think that’s the goal, they’re not working towards it. He’s always working toward the goal of hitting a line drive somewhere. Most guys don’t have to defend the whole field. When Luis Arraez steps on the plate you have to defend every patch of grass on that field because he will keep you honest.

Still, this amount of success is new. Arraez attributes it to a self-optimization tour last winter. He joined former teammate Nelson Cruz in the Dominican Republic in hopes of transforming his physique and strengthening his legs. During her first practice session, Arraez vomited. He soon adjusted and lapsed into a new schedule: hit 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., shred a protein shake, lift weights, eat, nap, return just before sunset for more hits, sleep, repeat.

“[Cruz] works hard every day, no matter what,” Arraez said. “Did you have a bad day today? Tomorrow is a new day. I have two bad days, I go 0 for 8 – but tomorrow is a different day. He taught me a lot about how to live my life. How I can play hard How to do my routine every day. I’ve never worked the way I work now.”

His in-season habits aren’t quite as strenuous. Every morning Arraez wakes up kissing his daughters Emma, ​​4, and Esther, 2, and watching videos — some from last year, others from 2016 when he won the Midwest League batting title. He goes to the stadium, takes off and then he hits and he hits and he hits.

“It reminds me a lot of Michael Brantley’s routine,” said Twins shortstop Carlos Correa, comparing Arraez to his former teammate, the Astros veteran who is widely regarded as the quintessential professional hitter and owner of a .298 lifetime average. “It’s a lot of tea work and drills. It works line to line. Don’t try to lift it. Just try to hit line drives at the shortstop’s head. And it plays.”

Reviewers struggle to find a fair comparison for Arraez. He’s Brantley, but smaller. Jose Ramirez minus the performance. Suzuki without the speed. He’s been seen through the lens of what’s missing for so long that it’s time to acknowledge what he’s adding.

Just as baseball raised a generation of players to hit the ball hard in the air, it should celebrate those who embarrass strikeouts and punches—of any kind—embody success. Which begs the question: if what Arraez is doing is so good for the game, why aren’t there more players like him?

Arraez’s season shows that there’s room for batters who aren’t obsessed with exit velocity and whose emphasis on contact defines their baseball existence. But they will not repeat his success. There is no secret ingredient to create players like you. As hard as he works, Arraez acknowledges that sometimes thugs are just born.

Because of this, his fan club is populated not only by those who know what a great hitter looks like, but also by those whose superiority at the plate has landed them in the Hall of Fame. Among his biggest boosters are Twins legend Rod Carew, winner of seven batting titles, owner of a .328 lifetime average and, as Arraez recently learned, Suzuki, who ranks Arraez as his favorite left-hander in baseball today. Neither Carew nor Suzuki praise willy-nilly. Their seals of approval say as much as Arraez’s numbers.

“He’s a great player,” said Correa. “He wants to be known. He wants people to know how good he really is.”

Momentum after momentum, they’re starting to see it, whether it’s through multi-hit games — his 24th ranking this season behind Seattle first baseman Ty France for most in the league — or big hits, like his recent home-run Off a substitution by Gerrit Cole. They admire the perfectionism they see when Arraez talks to himself after swinging and missing. You can feel the joy Arraez exudes, the same kind Baldelli noticed during spring training of his first season as Twins manager in 2019.

“It was about the relentless approach to everything he’s done, but also a joy factor that he takes with him everywhere he goes,” Baldelli said. “It’s what he brings when he walks the ballpark every day, and when he walks out, you get the same human.”

It’s ubiquitous with Arraez – he’s landed at first base this season after spending previous seasons at second and outfield, and he loves the challenge of being undersized on the field – but most noticeably, when he talks about hitting. He is a student and a practitioner. Being the best is his only satisfying option.

“I want to win the batting title this year,” Arraez said.

With that come the accolades: the reputation juice, the all-star performance, the money. The game has ups and downs and at some point – next year when the shift is likely to be banned? — brings the batting average back to the fore.

Arraez is just ahead of the curve. Fewer strikes. More balls in play. line drives. Skilled hitting art. For that there is a center seat worthy of reverence in modern baseball. For the zealots who want it all or nothing, take it. The rest of us will get Luis Arraez and be thankful for it.

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34156388/ichiro-rod-carew-favorite-player-how-luis-arraez-making-batting-average-cool-again Ichiro and Rod Carew’s favorite player? How Luis Arraez is making batting average cool again

Emma Bowman

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