Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jose Reyes: 2011 NL Batting Champion

Jose Reyes came into the day leading Ryan Braun by one point in the National League batting race.  Okay, technically Reyes' .33582 average led Braun (.33453) by .00129, but you get the picture.  After Reyes dropped a beautiful bunt single in the bottom of the first inning (see photo above), he left the game in a blink-and-you-missed-it moment, ending his 2011 season with a .33706 batting average.

Although the move to exit the game was Reyes' decision, that left a possibility that Ryan Braun could still win the batting title, but he would need three hits to do so, and he would have to do it in fewer than five at-bats.  (A 3-for-3 performance by Braun would have given him the batting title with a .33808 average and a 3-for-4 night would see Braun end the season at .33748, but finishing 3-for-5 would leave him short at .33688.  Anything more than three hits, regardless of the number of at-bats, would have given Braun the batting title and would have caused me to hit the delete button on this blog post.)

So what did Braun do in his final regular season game?  He grounded out in each of his first three at-bats, then flied out in his final at-bat.  By finishing at .33215 with his 0-for-4 night, Braun finished in second place in the National League batting race, making Jose Reyes the first Mets player in the 50-year history of the franchise to take home the batting crown.

Fans of Cleon Jones (third in 1969 NL batting race; .008 behind Pete Rose, .005 behind Roberto Clemente), Dave Magadan (third in 1990 NL batting race; .007 behind Willie McGee, .005 behind Eddie Murray) and John Olerud (second in 1998 NL batting race; .009 behind Larry Walker) can now breathe a sigh of relief, as they no longer have a deal with another near-miss for one of their beloved Mets in the batting race.

With his thin margin of victory (.00491), Reyes won the closest National League batting race since 2007, when Matt Holliday (.340) beat out Chipper Jones (.337) for the batting title.  Prior to Braun's oh-fer in the season finale, it looked as if the Reyes-Braun battle would be the closest race since 2003, when St. Louis' Albert Pujols (.35871) edged Colorado's Todd Helton (.35849) by .00022.  Both Pujols and Helton collected two hits in their team's final game of the regular season, with Helton being walked intentionally by the late Rod Beck in his final plate appearance to give Pujols the title.  A hit by Helton in that final at-bat would have given him the batting title at .35959.

Reyes probably wouldn't have taken himself out of Game No. 162 after his first inning bunt single had it not been for Bobby Parnell's "effort" in Game No. 161.  Parnell came into Tuesday night's penultimate game in relief of Manny Acosta needing just one out to protect a 4-3 Mets lead in the ninth inning.  However, Parnell slipped into his "Bobby being Bobby" persona and allowed a game-tying double by Reds' no-name Juan Francisco, who is the proud owner of 48 base hits over parts of three seasons in the big leagues.

The game then went into extra innings, with Reyes going 1-for-2 over the final four innings.  Without that extra hit, Reyes would have finished the season with a .33645 batting average instead of his final .33706 mark.  He also might have continued to play after his first inning hit, and perhaps would have lowered his batting average even more (or not - we'll never know).  Still, Reyes probably owes Parnell a Rolex for giving him the opportunity to collect that extra base hit, a Rolex that Reyes will certainly be able to afford after signing his next contract this offseason.

Jose Reyes came into the 2011 campaign with a .286 career batting average, never hitting above .300 over a full season (minimum 100 games).  No one could have expected him to win a batting title this year, but Reyes got off to a hot start, hitting .354 during the first half of the season.

Despite two trips to the disabled list, Reyes continued to hit in the second half, although not nearly at his blistering first-half pace.  That allowed Ryan Braun to make the NL batting race a two-horse field.  However, Reyes channeled his first-half self during the Mets' final homestand, finishing the season by going 10-for-18 (.556) against the Phillies and Reds, including hits in nine of his final 13 at-bats.

Braun also finished the regular season at home, but "only" went 7-for-17 in the six games, batting .412 during the homestand.

Congratulations to Jose Reyes on becoming the first Met to win a National League batting crown.  The Mets still can't claim an MVP or a no-hitter, but at least one of their 50-year-old monkeys is now off their backs.

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