Batting .400 over a single season? Yeah, that's pretty rare. It has been only done 13 times in major-league history since 1901 and not since Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941.
How about a BAbip of .400? That's not as rare as hitting .400 but it is still quite uncommon.
A quick explanation of BAbip, which stands for batting average of balls in play. It is just how it sounds: the batting average of a player for balls he puts in play, i.e. everything other than strikeouts and home runs. An average BAbip is around .300. There is some luck involved, but mostly in small sample sizes. For a longer explanation please check out this guide from Fangraphs.
Since 1901 -- the formation of the American League -- just 26 times has a player had a .400 or better BAbip over a full season (note: at least 502 plate appearances). This includes Benny Kauff, who did it in the Federal League in 1914, and Nap Lajoie for Cleveland in 1901 -- when the American League didn't count foul balls as strikes (thus his incredibly low nine strikeouts). Four players have had more than one season of .400 or better BAbip: Ty Cobb (seven times), Rogers Hornsby (twice), Joe Jackson (twice) and George Sisler (twice).
Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jonathan Villar is aiming to become the 18th player to join this exclusive company. Through 87 games, Villar has a BAbip of .410, which would place him at 14th all-time (13th if we exclude Lajoie). Of the previous 26, 22 occurred from 1901-36.
The other four are Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew, Manny Ramirez and . . . Jose Hernandez, who did it for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002. Hernandez is also the last major leaguer to have a .400+ BAbip in a season. He struck out 188 times but still hit .288 that season -- a lot of those balls he hit (minus his 24 homers) obviously fell for hits. Hernandez's career BAbip was .324. Villar's career BAbip entering this season was .322 (including this season, it is now at .354).
* -- Led league
So can Villar maintain this pace over the final couple months of the season? It would seem unlikely based on his and MLB's history, but it will be fun to track and find out.
Dave Heller is the author of the upcoming book Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth's Shadow as well as Facing Ted Williams Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns