Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera has won three batting titles in his career, and was leading the pack in the American League with a .350 batting average this season before a calf injury sent him to the disabled list on July 4. Cabrera could still win a fourth career batting title if he returns to action soon enough, and hits above .300 for the rest of the season.
Cabrera won three consecutive batting titles from 2011 to 2013 seasons, with batting averages of .344, .330, and .348, respectively. He finished second in 2010 with a .328 batting average, and his .324 average in 2009 was fourth. Cabrera hit .313 in 2014, the first time since 2008 that he finished outside the top five hitters in the league (he was seventh).
Under current MLB rules, a player must have 3.1 plate appearances per team game, or a total of 502 plate appearances over a 162-game season, to qualify for the batting title. Cabrera had made 333 plate appearances when he went on the disabled list, leaving him 169 appearances shy of the number needed to qualify.
However, there is an exception. if a player's lead in batting average is sufficiently large that enough hitless at bats can be added to reach 502 so that the player still would have the highest batting average, he wins the title. Cabrera currently holds a 24-point lead over his nearest competitor for the batting title. The Indians’ Jason Kipnis leads the current list of qualifiers with a .326 average.
Cabrera was averaging 4.32 plate appearances over the 77 games he played before being sidelined. He would need another 39 games at that rate to make it to 502 plate appearances. If he falls shy of that number of plate appearances, he could still outpace the current leaders. Presently, Cabrera could absorb 20 hitless at bats and still lead the league in batting average.
In one hypothetical scenario, if Cabrera were to come off the disabled list on August 21, playing each game for the rest of the season while averaging the same number of plate appearances and at-bats he did prior to his injury, he could go 42-for-140 for a .300 average and still finish with a .333 batting average. (Note that plate appearances are used to qualify, but at bats are used to calculate batting average). Cabrera is still very much in the race for the 2015 American League batting title. He would also be leading the league in on-base percentage and weighted on-base average (wOBA) if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
A fourth batting title would put Cabrera in rare company, making him the fifth player in American League history to win four batting titles*. The Tigers’ Ty Cobb won a dozen batting titles** in his career. Other players with at least four batting titles include Rod Carew of the Twins (7), Ted Williams of the Red Sox (6) and Harry Heilmann of the Tigers (4). Heilmann is the only right-handed hitter of that group. Honus Wagner, Rogers Hornsby, Roberto Clemente, and Bill Madlock are the only righties to win four batting titles in the National League.
* The Indians' Nap Lajoie won three batting titles, and the 1902 title is murky due to Lajoie's number of plate appearances.
** The 1910 batting title is also in dispute between Cobb and the Indians' Tris Speaker.