Steven Kwan’s Quiet Chase For .400

Steven Kwan's quiet chase for a .400 batting average simply isn't getting enough attention this year, but he deserves some spotlight.

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 26: Steven Kwan #38 of the Cleveland Guardians hits a home run in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on April 26, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

One of the more underrated storylines developing in the 2024 MLB season is Steven Kwan and his quiet chase for a .400 batting average. The Cleveland Guardians left fielder has the chance to do something that has not been done in Major League Baseball since 1941 when Ted Williams did it.

Last year when Luis Arraez was in the midst of his own historic run, the media could not stop covering it. Starting in June and going all the way through August, outlets couldn’t help themselves from publishing weekly “Luis Arraez might hit .400!” pieces. Of course, he finished the year hitting only .354, still more than enough to league the lead.

This year, which still is not even at the halfway point, Kwan is simply not generating the headlines like Arraez was a year ago. But he should be.

In reality, the two players are very alike. Neither relies on power, they tend to walk more than they strike out, they are the pure definition of “slap hitters”. Point being, each player gets on base a ton and seems to do everything right in his quest to reach however he can.

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The Significance of .400

Finishing a full season of games with a batting average north of .400 just is not done these days. In recent memory, Ichiro (2004), Nomar Garciaparra (2000) and Todd Helton (2000) made it up to .372, while Barry Bonds sat at .370 in 2002. Otherwise, nobody has even topped .370 since 2004.

In the history of baseball, a .400 average has been reached by 42 players, with the majority of them coming before the year 1900. Williams, a Hall of Famer, was the last to do it in MLB in 1941, while four Negro League players accomplished it from 1943-1948.

Even last season when Arraez got up to .354, there was an almost 20 point gap between him and second-place Ronald Acuna Jr., who wound up at .337. The year prior, only two players – Jeff McNeil (.326) and Freddie Freeman (.325) even hit above .320.

The gap between Kwan and the field this year is astounding. Entering the day, Kwan sits at .398 while Trea Turner, second in the game (min. 150 PA) is at .340 and LaMonte Wade Jr. is at .333. Bobby Witt Jr. is the top qualified hitter with a .323 average.

Kwan’s Special Season

Entering Thursday’s action, Kwan is sporting a cool .397 average through 205 plate appearances. He’s not qualified for the batting title right now, as he missed some time with an injury earlier in year, but staying healthy going forward should easily get him to 502 PAs, the number he needs to get to if he wants to qualify for a batting title, .400 or not.

Kwan’s got a .554 SLG and 1.010 OPS, too, both of which would rank near the top of the league if he were qualified. A quick look at his Baseball Savant page shows that, aside from hitting for power, he does nearly everything right on a baseball field.

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He doesn’t chase bad pitches and never strikes out, he makes good contact frequently and he plays above-average defense in the outfield. He’s also currently riding a 24-game on-base streak dating back to the end of April. What more could you want from a player?

Kwan himself is a fairly quiet player who just shows up to the field and goes about his business. He’s not only overlooked by national media, but he’s also overshadowed by some of his own teammates, including David Fry who has come out of nowhere and turned himself into an All-Star.

Oh, and there’s that Jose Ramirez guy as well. He’s tied for first in the league in RBI (63) and is only two home runs away from becoming the fifth member of the 2024 20-homer club. Ramirez is the face of the franchise at this point, but his presence makes it a bit easier to understand why Kwan is overlooked.

Getting the Manager’s Vogt of Confidence

Guardians manager Stephen Vogt, a 10-year big league veteran who knows a thing or two about hitting, is hesitant to lock Kwan in to such an accomplishment so early in the season, but believes his left fielder has the skills to do so.

I mean, the way our game is played now, it’s extremely difficult to hit .400. With all the information that we have, where guys are positioning, just the advancements in the game, it takes somebody who has the ability to make contact consistently and hit the ball all over the field. But could it be done again? Yeah, I think it could, but it’s extremely difficult. But, I would definitely say Kwanie has the skillset to do it.

Via Ryan Lewis, Akron Beacon Journal

This sentiment was echoed by another manager, too, one that Kwan doesn’t even play for. Scott Servais of the Mariners told Lewis that Kwan is one of only a few players in the game with the contact skills needed to hit .400, which is a huge compliment.

It’s unbelievable, but it speaks to his skillset. He just doesn’t swing and miss. It’s a 1% whiff rate on fastballs and a 5% whiff rate on breaking balls. It’s really unbelievable hand-eye coordination. He’s very gifted in that way.
There’s really only he and Luis Arraez who have the contact skills needed to hit .400. I’m glad we only see him for three days before we can move on down the road.

Via Ryan Lewis, Akron Beacon Journal

Is This Pace Sustainable?

Probably not, but it’s so much fun to watch while it’s happening. Even if Kwan is able to “settle” for a batting title, it’d be the first from a Cleveland player since Bobby Avila all the way back in 1954.

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For Kwan to start this year off on such a strong foot is exciting. In a day in age where the game is dominated by 100mph heaters and knee-buckling sweepers, he’s been quietly making his way towards an historic feat that isn’t talked about enough. Give it another few weeks and he should start to gain more headlines and some legitimacy as he marches towards history.