Forget Chipper – Who’s Gonna Hit .400 In The Minors?

With Atlanta’s Chipper Jones making an early run at Major League Baseball’s first .400 batting average in 67 years, I thought it might be fun to look at similar seasons at the minor league level.  The data at Baseball-Reference’s minor league site goes back as far as 1992, a seventeen year span in which there have been ten .400 seasons.

Sort of.

The thing with these stats is that the minimum number of plate appearances necessary for inclusion among the leaders is 150, a far cry from the 502 required to become eligible for a major league batting title.  Under those parameters, the following players can claim to be in the company of Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, et al:

Greg Morrison, 1997 Medicine Hat Blue Jays (Pioneer League – Rookie): .448 (108-241)
Rene Reyes, 1998 AZL Rockies (Arizona League – Rookie): .429 (76-177)
Kevin Sweeney, 1996 Lethbridge Black Diamonds (Pioneer League – Rookie): .424 (86-203)
Paul Chiaffredo, 1997 St. Catharine’s Stompers (New York-Penn League – Low A): .423 (69-163)
Hernan Iribarren, 2004 2 Teams (2 Leagues – Rookie/A): .422 (108-256)
Jason Ellison, 2006 Fresno Grizzlies (Pacific Coast League – AAA): .406 (78-192)
Rene Agueron, 2005 Bluefield Orioles (Appalachian League – Rookie): .405 (66-163)
Erubiel Durazo, 1999 2 Teams (2 Leagues – AA/AAA): .404 (139-344)
Ruben Salazar, 1999 Elizabethton Twins (Appalachian League – Rookie): .401 (105-262)
Harvey Pulliam, 1997 Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Pacific Coast League – AAA): .401 (55-137)

Originally, I thought I had found the mother lode, the greatest (small sample size) batting average of all time, when I saw that Billings’ Nick Morrow had hit a remarkable .651 in 1994.  Yes, .651.  It was such a huge number that more research was required, which led to an unhappy discovery: Minor League Reference listed Morrow with 82 hits in 126 at-bats; The Baseball Cube, credits him with 82 hits in 246 at-bats, for a much more believable (and ordinary) .333 mark.  Much a pity.

The new number one, Morrison’s .448, is still pretty impressive (and backed up by two sources).  Personally, I’m a fan of Durazo’s 1999 campaign – 344 at-bats is a decent number, the most on the list, and he accomplished it at the AA and AAA levels rather than Rookie ball.

Early on this season, several players are in position to add their names to the list:

Terry Tiffee, Las Vegas 51s (Pacific Coast League – AAA): .430 (68-158)
Jamie D’Antona, Tucson Sidewinders (Pacific Coast League – AAA): .421 (53-126)
Shane Robinson, Springfield Cardinals (Texas League – AA): .413 (50-121)
Pablo Sandoval, San Jose Giants (California League – High A): .406 (54-133)
Luis Maza, Las Vegas 51s (Pacific Coast League – AAA): .402 (51-127)

Should be fun to keep an eye on the Tiffee-Maza battle in Sin City for the next few weeks, though it won’t take much of a mini-slump for either to drop below .400.

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