A hot streak is different than a hitting streak. During Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak he batted only .408. THC is looking for absolute barrages of hits over a period of at least 20 games.*
We took a look at some seasons when great hitters hit for very high averages and it was while researching George Sisler's 1920 and 1922 seasons that we found what we were looking for. In 1922, the St Louis Browns star, hit .420, while batting .407 in 1920.
Although he averaged over .400 both years, Sisler's hitting pattern was different. In 1922, his average was relatively consistent throughout the season, with no big slumps or hot streaks (although hitting .420 might itself be considered a year long hot streak). He even had a 41 game hitting streak that season, during which he hit only .355. Things were different in 1920 with Sisler batting .474 at home, compared to .341 on the road, indicating he must have had some real hot streaks (in 1922, George's home/road differential was only .052). The Browns star went hitless in only 8 of 78 home games, failing to get a hit only once in his last 40 games at friendly Sportsman's Park.
Sure enough, that's what we found. In fact, George had two torrential downpours of hits during 1920. The first stretched over 27 games from May 31 (starting in the second game of a doubleheader) through June 28, in which Sisler hit .565! ** Here's the breakdown:
NOTES: 23 of 27 games at home. Did not strike out in 119 plate appearances. Had four 4-hit games and nine 3-hit games, averaging over 2 hits a game, and went hitless on three occasions. Liked hitting against Sox, averaging .667 (8 for 12) against the White Sox and .632 against the Red Sox (12 for 19). Batting average was .333 at start and .434 at end.Sisler wasn't done yet as he ended the season with a 25 game burst during which he hit .486:
NOTES: 22 of 25 games at home, batting .500 in the home games. One 4-hit game, ten 3-hit games and held hitless twice. Averaged more than two hits a game. Average was .391 at beginning of streak and .407 at end.Sisler's 257 hits in 1920 set a record that remained unbroken until Ichiro Suzuki's 262 in 2004***. In the 54 games of his two streaks, George accumulated 114 hits, batting .525. In his remaining 110 games he had 143 hits, with a .346 average.
(Ichiro gets his 261st hit)
George Sisler was also considered a top-notch fielder at first base and a good baserunner, leading the league three times in stolen bases (1918, 21 and 22). He was the 10th player elected to the Hall of Fame, with a lifetime BA of .340, but might very well have had an even greater career. Following the 1922 season, a sinus infection caused him severe eye problems and he missed the entire 1923 season. Upon his return in 1924, he was good, but not great, retiring after the 1930 season. As of the end of the 1922 season, he was 29 years old, averaging 240 hits a year, with a .400 average over the prior three seasons, and career average of .361. In the high offense context of the 1920s and early 1930s, it's very possible he would have ended up with a final career average in the .355-.360 range and over 3,500 hits.
* For a shorter hot streak, how about this one from Rogers Hornsby's 1924 season with the St Louis Cardinals, in which he went 34-for-51 (.667), over 14 games from August 20 through 29? The streak may have been stopped by what looks like an injury in the August 29 game, as Hornsby only had two plate appearances and then did not play again until September 7. He also put on quite a power display during those 14 games, whacking 10 doubles, a triple and 6 home runs - 64 total bases!
While looking at Hornsby's season (he hit .424), I also saw what can happen when a batter and pitcher meet at the peak of their careers. In the game prior to Rogers streak, he'd whiffed twice, one of only three occasions on which that happened all season. In fact, Hornsby fanned only 32 times in 642 PAs. But he struck out three times in one game on June 14 against the Brooklyn Robins. The box score revealed the pitcher was Dazzy Vance, who went 28-6 with 262 K's that year (twice as many as the next highest total in the league). In 1924, Dazzy went 4-0 against the Cards, and in three of the games, Hornsby only gathered 2 hits (both singles) and struck out five times in 14 at bats facing Vance. It was probably even worse. One of the victories was a 4-inning relief stint, in which Dazzy gave up only one hit and fanned six, before picking up the win in the 12th. There is no play by play available, but he might have rung Hornsby up at least once more. Vance may have always given Rogers trouble. Though we don't have full pitcher/batter matchup information prior to 1930, from 1930-37 Hornsby went only 1-for-10 against Dazzy. For more on Dazzy's career, read Dazzy Koufax.
** A Note on Methodology. Searches for highest batting average over X games cannot be done on Baseball-Reference. You can do a search to find the highest batting averages during hitting streaks, but, as I found with Sisler and others, these high average spurts over long periods always had one or more hitless games. What I did, however, was run the hitting streak data on BR, and then looked before and after the start of each streak to see if I could find a cumulative average exceeding Sisler's and did not. I also randomly looked at high average seasons by many great players (limiting my search to seasons since 1900). My conclusion is therefore only tentative. And I'm sure someone has done more exhaustive research on this topic.
My methodology does not take into account season and park context. Sisler's barrage occurred in the very high offense context of the 1920s. Was his .565 in 27 games better than Ichiro's .514 in 32 games in 2004 (for more, see below), or George Brett's .500 over 28 games in 1980, when he hit .390 for the season (and .432 over his final 85 games)?
*** During his record-setting 2004 season, Ichiro went on a 32 game rampage from July 19 through August 21 during which he batted .514 with 76 hits, raising his average from .319 to .372. Nine 3-hit games, four 4-hit games and two games with 5 hits.