MLB's 10 Candidates to Win the AL and NL Batting Crowns

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2022

MLB's 10 Candidates to Win the AL and NL Batting Crowns

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Major League Baseball has undergone a stark change in how to approach the plate, but a high-average hitter never goes out of style.

    Last season, the batting titles went to a couple of first-time winners. Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel took home the American League honors, and infielder Trea Turner earned the NL award after he split the season between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Heading into 2022, we've highlighted five of the strongest candidates to claim the batting title in each league.

    While the list is subjective, the choices are based on past production, metrics and projections for 2022.

AL: Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    If you give Tim Anderson a pitch to hit, he's definitely swinging. Through six seasons with the Chicago White Sox, the shortstop has taken only 103 walks.

    Anderson, the 2019 AL batting champ and 2020 runner-up, is always prepared to put the ball in play.

    Most importantly, though, Anderson's free-swinging approach is consistently effective. He's posted batting averages of .335, .322 and .309 since 2019, respectively, while dropping his strikeout percentage from the high 20s of his earliest MLB years to 21.9 over the last two full seasons.

    One remarkable note is the underlying numbers haven't regularly loved Anderson. If his hard-hit and barrel rates improve, there's a strong possibility his average will, too.

AL: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Spoiler alert: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ridiculous.

    Not only did he lead the American League in homers (48), runs (123), on-base percentage (.401), slugging (.601) and OPS (1.002) last season, but he also hit .311. That was the AL's third-best mark behind Houston teammates Yuli Gurriel and Michael Brantley.

    Along with securing his first-ever All-Star nod and Silver Slugger, the 22-year-old finished second in AL MVP voting.

    Guerrero's hard-hit and barrel rates were among the best in the majors, and there's little reason to expect a change in 2022.

AL: Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    And the Blue Jays aren't finished.

    Bo Bichette debuted in 2019, posting a .311 average in 196 at-bats. After notching a .301 mark during the shortened 2020 campaign, he smacked an AL-high 191 hits with a .298 average last season.

    One reasonable concern in Bichette's chase for a batting title is his propensity to start chasing pitches in two-strike counts. He struck out 137 times in 2021 and walked back to the dugout empty-handed on 24.1 percent of his 319 at-bats in 2019 and 2020 combined.

    Still, he's only 24 years old and just completed his first full MLB season. He's a strong contender in 2022 and beyond.

AL: Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals

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    Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

    Has any player been mentioned in more trade rumors than Whit Merrifield over the last half-decade? It seems the Kansas City Royals star has held a perpetual spot on the block.

    Kansas City, though, has hung on to Merrifieldeven recently adding a year to his contract. And he just keeps hitting.

    During each of the last four seasons, Merrifield has collected a top-three mark in hits among AL players. As for the batting crown, it's notable that he hit over .300 in 2018 and 2019 but dipped to .282 and .277 in the last two years, respectively.

    But it always feels like Merrifield is only a hot streak away from making a serious run at a batting title.

AL: Luis Arraez, Minnesota Twins

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    While the Minnesota Twins try to figure out Luis Arraez's role on defense, they'll be counting on his bat in a promising lineup that added Carlos Correa this offseason.

    Arraez, a fourth-year player, has a career average of .313. He registered a .294 mark while playing 121 games in 2021, peaking at .319 in mid-August.

    Health is the primary concern with Arraez, who effectively missed the 2017 minor league season with a torn ACL and played through knee discomfort in 2020. Last season, the utilityman dealt with a concussion, shoulder issue and knee injury.

    At his best, though, Arraez is an excellent contact hitter with the clear upside of competing for a batting title.

NL: Trea Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Trea Turner is probably the most obvious pick.

    After recording a .335 average with an NL-best 78 hits in 2020, he led MLB in both average (.328) and hits (195) in 2021. Turner is an elite contributor at the plate.

    Part of what makes Turner so dangerous is his speed. Grounders that seem routine occasionally turn into infield singles. Pointing only to his quickness would be foolish, though; Turner ranked in the 77th percentile of hard-hit balls last season.

    Between his high on-base rate and blazing speed, Turner is yet another luxury for the Dodgers' star-studded lineup.

NL: Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Juan Soto's disciplineand the reality that he's an incredibly feared hitteronly helps his batting average.

    Last year, the Nationals star collected an MLB-high 145 walks. The next-closest player, Joey Gallo, tallied 111. Of course, it only makes sense to pitch around Soto, who belted 34 homers in 2019 and knocked 29 out of the park in 2021.

    Soto claimed the NL batting crown in 2020, hitting .351 during his 47 appearances of the shortened season. Plus, the outfielder's .313 clip trailed only Turner in the NL last year.

    Similar to Guerrero, we have no justifiable reason to expect anything less from the 23-year-old Soto in 2022.

NL: Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Through the first four seasons of his MLB career, Ketel Marte was simply a fine player. He'd managed a .263/.324/.389 in two years each with the Seattle Mariners and Arizona Diamondbacks.

    And then, 2019 happened.

    The switch-hitting Marte soared to a .329 average, missing out on the NL batting title by a preposterously small margin. Only six-thousandths separated Milwaukee Brewers star Christian Yelich (.3292) from Marte (.3286) that season.

    Marte managed a .287 mark in 2020 and recovered with a .318 average last year, though hamstring injuries limited him to 90 games.

    As with Arraez, availability is Marte's main obstacle. But when he's healthy, Marte's production is superb.

NL: Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Although it'll be strange to watch Freddie Freeman in a different uniform, his production shouldn't change much.

    During his 11 full seasons on the Atlanta Braves, he notched a .300 average or better six timesincluding five of the last six years. Freeman peaked at .341 in his MVP-winning 2020 campaign.

    As if Atlanta's lineup wasn't dangerous enough, Freeman is now part of the Dodgers' unyielding offense. He might even settle in between Mookie Betts and Trea Turner, two other high-average hitters, to create a ridiculously tough top three in Los Angeles.

NL: Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Last season's NL MVP, Bryce Harper also earned a top-10 ranking in the majors with a .309 average.

    This time around, however, the outfielder will attempt to avoid repeating what happened in his first post-MVP campaign. Harper hit .330 in 2015 but trudged to a career-worst .243 clip the next year. He had a bounce-back season and .319 average in 2017.

    And the Philadelphia Phillieswho haven't made the postseason since 2011are hoping the same from Harper.

    In both 2020 and 2021, he ranked in the 91st percentile or better in both hard-hit balls and barrel rate.

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