Welcome to our final regular-season edition of the 2022 MLB hitter rankings, otherwise known as "Aaron Judge and the Mere Mortals."
St. Louis' Paul Goldschmidt had been holding down our No. 1 spot for months, but while the Cardinals first baseman has faded in recent weeks, Judge has been on quite the heater and could be on the brink of joining 2012 Miguel Cabrera as the only Triple Crown winners in the past 55 years.
Judge was barely top 10 in the AL in batting average in early September, but going 30-for-61 (.492) over 16 games changed things in a hurry.
Based on a combination of contact, power, plate discipline and what we're calling "pitch immunity," we've cobbled together a ranking of the current 10 best hitters in baseball. A report card grade has been assigned for each of the four categories, and rankings are loosely based on each player's average grade.
We're focused on full-season production, but recency bias does play a bit of a factor here. For instance, both Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have MVP-caliber year-to-date stats, but those Cardinals have struggled over the past month and each slipped a few spots as a result.
"Previous Rankings" are based on our last batch of hitter rankings from August 29. Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference and are current through the start of play on Sunday, September 25.
Honorable Mentions: Rafael Devers, Andrés Giménez, Bryce Harper, Michael Harris II, Eloy Jiménez, Nathaniel Lowe, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols, José Ramírez, Julio Rodríguez, Juan Soto
10. Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves
Previous Rank: No. 10
Austin Riley was a .303 hitter in 2021 and went bonkers for a .435 average from June 30 through July 31 of this season. But he has been more of a slugger than a contact hitter thus far in his MLB career, and his average has trickled down to .278 over the course of the past eight weeks with fewer balls flying out of the yard.
Without question, Riley has not been the same slugger since signing his massive extension with Atlanta at the beginning of August. At the end of July, he was slugging .604 and on a 162-game pace of 47 home runs and 50 doubles. Since then, he's slugging .404 with a combined total of 15 home runs and doubles in what has been nearly one-third of the season. However, he's the only player in the majors with at least 37 of each, and he's still top-five in the majors in slugging. That gets an A+.
Plate Discipline: B-
In Sunday's extra-innings showdown with Philadelphia, Riley wore the golden sombrero for the third time this season. He also whiffed four times in May against the Mets and in June against the A's, and he is now up to 160 strikeouts on the season. That's not the worst mark in the majors, but it's not good, especially when coupled with just 51 walks.
Pitch Immunity: A-
If you throw Riley a curveball, you deserve to give up a home run. He has been best in the majors against that pitch, with Shohei Ohtani as the runner-up—and it's not even remotely close. Riley has also been one of the best against sliders. He would at least get an A, if not an A+, if he wasn't so mediocre against fastballs.
9. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
Previous Rank: No. 8
Mookie Betts is leading the NL in runs scored, but that is much more a product of hitting in front of Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman than it is an indication of Betts racking up all of the hits. He's only hitting .268, which ranks last among players in our top 10. He has really struggled in September, too, batting just .195 with nine hitless nights.
I'll be honest, 35 home runs feels like a bit of a letdown after Betts went for a dozen in the month of May alone. He was No. 1 in our hitter rankings back in early June, on pace for somewhere around 50. But he missed a couple of weeks with a cracked rib and hasn't been quite as explosive since his return. Still, a career-high 35 home runs—not to mention 73 total extra-base hits and a .537 slugging percentage—is a mighty fine season.
Plate Discipline: A-
Betts' year-to-date strikeout rate (16 percent) is still the worst of his career, but it has been almost a month since he last struck out multiple times in a game. He's still mighty impatient for a leadoff hitter, though, drawing walks less than nine percent of the time.
Pitch Immunity: A
At the start of play on Sunday, Betts and likely NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt were the only players worth at least 3.0 total runs above average against each of the five main pitch types (fastball, slider, cutter, curveball and changeup). Betts was not top-10 against any of the five individual pitch types, but it's a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none situation in which he is easily top-10 against that five-pitch arsenal as a whole.