5. Christian Yelich, Marlins/Brewers
Yelich ended the decade with back-to-back batting titles with the Brewers as well as an aggregate .301 batting average since debuting in 2013. He hit .329 and .326 in 2018 and ’19 and also finished at exactly .300 in 2015. There were only 20 players with more seasons hitting .300 or better, which is impressive because Yelich didn’t play the full decade. Yelich is more than just batting average. While he was mostly a gap-to-gap hitter when he was in Miami, he developed into one of baseball’s best power threats as well, cranking out 36 homers in ’18 and 44 this past season. In both seasons, he led the league in slugging percentage and OPS. Yelich is entering the new decade at the age of 28, so it’s scary to think about how good he could continue to be through the age of 37.
4. José Altuve, Astros
2019 was comparatively a down year for Altuve as it marked the first time since 2013 that he did not hit .300 or better. He finished at a meager .298. Let’s hope he can turn things around in 2020. Jokes aside, Altuve’s résumé is mighty impressive. He’s a three-time batting champ who has led the league in hits four times. He took home the AL MVP Award in 2017, the year he helped the Astros win their first championship. Along with being arguably baseball’s most consistent contact hitter, Altuve also has in his arsenal hitting for power and speed. He stole 30-plus bases in six consecutive years from 2012-17, and hit 40-plus doubles three straight years in 2014-16. He reached a career-high in dingers in 2019 with 31. There are few flaws in Altuve’s game, so the only question in what will be his age-30 season is whether or not he can stay mostly healthy as he ages. If he can, Altuve may have himself a Hall of Fame career.
3. Joey Votto, Reds
Humorously, Votto is known more for not putting his bat on the ball – he has led the league in walks five times and in on-base percentage seven times. He’s never won a batting title. But Votto has hit .300 or better eight times in his 13-year career, ending this decade with an aggregate .306 average. It’s the fourth-highest mark from 2010-19. Votto is no longer the hitter he used to be – though you shouldn’t write off a bounce-back year in 2020 – but earlier in the decade, he was seemingly a lock to not only hit above .300 but also contribute 30-40 doubles and 25-30 homers. Somehow, Votto went unappreciated not just nationally but locally as well, with some local personalities frequently taking shots because his RBI totals were low. Make no mistake: at No. 3 on this list, Votto was in rarefied air for much of the past decade.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
All Miguel Cabrera did this past decade was win four batting titles, two MVP Awards, and achieve the first Triple Crown (2012) since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Entering what will be his age-37 season, Cabrera is a shambles, but luckily was able to thoroughly pad a first-ballot Hall of Fame résumé. We have talked a lot about hitting for .300, but try this on for size: Cabrera hit .330 or better five times in his career, including four times this decade. He did this while also leading the league in doubles twice, in homers twice, in RBI twice, and in on-base percentage four times. Cabrera finished the 2010’s with a composite .317 average, the best mark of any qualified hitter. The only hitter remotely in Cabrera’s ballpark here is Altuve (.315). As good as Cabrera was, some would argue both of his MVP Awards belonged to No. 1 on this list…
1. Mike Trout, Angels
Trout has appeared on two of our three previous lists, but this is surprisingly the first one in which he ranks No. 1. He was unquestionably the best player of the decade, racking up 251 doubles, 46 triples, 285 homers, 752 RBI, 903 runs, and 200 stolen bases while batting .305/.419/.581. It is quite possible we are watching the greatest player to ever play the game. And yet Trout never won a batting title. He ranks fifth in batting average for the past decade behind Cabrera, Altuve, Adrián Beltré, and Votto. Hitting for average, though, was a big part of Trout’s game even though his homers, his speed, and his incredible defense grabbed more headlines. Trout won the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award as well as three AL MVP Awards. Some would argue he deserved to win even more MVP Awards as evidenced by his four runner-up finishes, including twice to Cabrera in 2012 and ’13. Trout, by the way, is 28 years old. We may very well be ranking him No. 1 on next decade’s list, too.