Two days ago, Rob Neyer wrote about Omar Infante and his chances of winning the batting title in the National League and points out
“There is a loophole, though. Usually it's a small loophole. But this year it's a loophole big enough for Omar Infante to drive a truck through it.Here’s where it gets confusing to TCM:
If a player doesn't finish with 502 plate appearances, you can the add necessary hitless (and imaginary) plate appearances to get him there. If his new (imaginary) batting average is still good enough to lead the league, he gets his batting title.”
If Infante finishes the year with fewer than 502 plate appearances and still wins the batting title, what’s his batting average? Does he get to keep his, say, .340 mark, or will he go down in the record book as .335 or whatever after those extra at bats are added in? Will we say he beat Votto or Pujols by 10 points, or 5 points? Look, the usual caveats about batting titles being not very important certainly apply here, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t inherently interesting.
For what it’s worth, the system currently in place, in which we’re allowed to add at bats to a hitter’s total to get him to the qualifying limit hearkens back to 1951 and was in place until the 1955 season. Then it disappeared until 1967, when it was brought back. In that time, the closest anyone’s come to the threshold while winning a title was Bill Madlock in 1981, when he needed 317 plate appearances, and he got 320. He’s followed closely by Andres Galarraga, who needed 502 in 1993, and got 506.
Update: Intrepid reader James Niemeyer points out that Tony Gwynn won the '96 batting title with just 498 plate appearances. His .353 average is listed 1st on BR.com's leader board, but his adjusted average would have been .349, five points better than Ellis Burks' .344. Looks like we have our answer.