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Can Hunter Pence Win The Batting Title?


Shortest TCB article ever.

Let's just say it's unlikely that Hunter Pence will win the National League batting title, as he went into Thursday's game with the second-highest average in the league, he's got a pretty good chance.

Well, he's got a chance. Pence has been on an unbelievably hot streak to get up as high on that list as he has. But, he's also doing it with a .393 batting average on balls in play, which will very surely fall. He's also got a career BABiP of .328, so even though he can sustain a slightly higher average there, his current BABiP is simply too high to sustain. 

That means we know he'll fall, but how much? ZiPS has Pence finishing the season with a .311 batting average. Currently, Jose Reyes is the only player above Pence, but there is a collection of familiar names on there too. Most of them are hovering around .315, which makes me think the winner will probably fall around .320. At the same time, you have to go back to 1991 to find a player who won the title with an average under. 330. That was Terry Pendleton, who took the title with a .319 average.

Of the current leaders in the NL, only Jose Reyes is projected by ZiPS to finish with an average over .330 (he's at .335), thus giving him the likely edge in taking the batting title halfway through the season. That doesn't rule Pence out, and actually places him in some austere company in team history.

Houston has never had a player win the NL batting title. Twice, a player has finished second, as Jeff Bagwell did in 1994 and Moises Alou did in 2000. Bagwell hit .364, but finished 30 points behind Tony Gwynn, who was flirting with .400 before baseball went on strike. Then, in 2000, Alou was beat out by 17 points to Todd Helton, who was hitting in that super hitter's park that was Coors Field.

Now, the third part of your question is probably, why should I care? Doesn't batting average mean less than nothing? Well, it's certainly been devalued in this age of sabermetrics, but I think there is still some cache if Pence were to win the batting title. Since he would be the first Astro to do it, he'd increase his case even more heading into arbitration next season.

So, are you rooting for Pence to get there or fall short?