The A’s Starling Marte came into Saturday with the second-best batting average in the Major Leagues (.317), which puts him only one point behind the leader of the Major League in that regard, his compatriot Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Azulejos.
However, whatever happens, Mars won’t win the batting title this year.
But how? Let us explain it better. It is one of the most interesting stories in baseball, and it includes quite a bit of history.
Mars is ineligible for the batting crown, despite being the best hitter overall – having consumed at least 3.1 at-bats per game per team – he will not qualify for any league.
To win the AL batting title, a player must hit 502 times at bat (3.1 162 times, in a normal season) wearing an American League uniform. To win it in the National, you must reach that mark in a set of the Old Circuit. Although the hitter who finishes first on average in the majors each year is often recognized, there is no specific batting title. A player must qualify in a specific league to be considered.
The Dominican was traded on July 28 from the Marlins to the Athletics in exchange for the Peruvian-Venezuelan Jesús Luzardo. At the point where he was traded, Marte was hitting .305 in 275 times at bat as an Old Circuit player. He wasn’t in the conversation for the batting title for two reasons; first, Nick Castellanos led the league with .329 and second, Marte did not qualify up to that point, due to time lost due to injury.
But since arriving in Oakland, Marte has hit .333 in 193 plate appearances, doing two things: being among the overall qualified players, with 471 plate appearances in the Athletics’ 146 games, and being among the leaders on average with .317. Now, Mars is second in the majors in that regard, because he qualifies among all players overall, even though he is not counted for the AL or NL batting title.
Again, it is important to note that this applies only because Mars was switched from one league to another. If you had gone from the Marlins to the Cardinals, or another NL team, I would qualify for the Old Circuit, if I had the same current average.
That means that if the season ended today, Marte would be the major league leader in batting average, but he would not win any batting titles. It is something important for Guerrero, who is fighting the Triple Crown of the American League. But Mars is in the way of his countryman as he attempts to become the first player since Mickey Mantle in 1956 to win the Major League Triple Crown.
Mars wouldn’t be the first player to lead the majors on average and not win a batting title. Here the historical part. He would be the second player in the Modern Era (since 1900) at that position, joining Eddie Murray in 1990.
Murray, unlike the Dominican, did not change teams, but lost to another player who was changed. This was what happened.
Murray hit .330 for the Dodgers, finishing one point ahead of the Royals’ George Brett for the major league lead. Brett won the AL batting crown, but Murray finished five points behind another NL player – despite leading the majors.
Willie McGee hit .335 in 542 times at bat for the Cardinals, through Aug. 29. That day, like Mars, he was traded to the Athletics, with whom the season ended. He hit .274 in 123 times at bat for Oakland, finishing with a .324 overall average.
But since he was traded between leagues, that .335 average on the NL froze when he moved to Oakland. As he was traded in August, he racked up the at-bats necessary to qualify at the end of the season, to take the NL batting title – despite finishing in the A’s uniform, and with an overall average of .330; behind Murray.
What about the stolen bases?
Averages, as we mentioned above, need to qualify. That is why there is a greater potential to reach historic territories, as opposed to their stolen bases. Overall, he leads the majors with 45 scams, five more than Whit Merrifield and 16 more than Turner.
But if we divide it by league, it is fascinating. His 23 stolen bases with the Athletics equate him for fourth in the AL, while the 22 he had with the Marlins also rank him fourth in the NL.
No player has ever finished in the top 10 in stolen bases in the AL and National in the same year, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Mars could be in the top 5 of both.
The researchers at Elias were kind enough to look at other totally different numbers – hits, doubles, strikeouts and so on – to see if anyone has finished in the top 10 in both leagues. All they got were pitchers.
In 2009, Cliff Lee was tied for fifth in the AL in complete games with the Indians and third in the NL with the Phillies, who acquired him in late July. Last year, CC Sabathia led the NL in complete games with the Brewers after they acquired him in a trade, and was tied for third in the AL with the Indians. In 2002, Bartolo Colón finished fourth in the American League in complete games with the Indians and was tied for fifth in the National League with the Expos after a trade. And in 1998, Randy Johnson ranked eighth in complete games in the NL with the Astros after being traded, and his AL total with the Mariners put him in fifth place.
There is some precedent for this concept, but not much. And that’s the history of Mars. In addition to seeking a postseason berth, he is in pursuit of several unique records.