Looking for a Hit (By Pitch)

Plunked, beaned, drilled, hit-by-pitch, the often unpleasant act of stalling the progress of a speeding baseball with one’s self. It’s perhaps not the most morally clean play to root for, but it generates replays and occasionally talking points.

So, for whatever reason (masochism, vindictiveness, giving purpose to looking at a late-season Tigers game), I want to find out where I can hear stitched leather rattle bone in the coming season.

When we see someone being hit by a baseball, we usually assume one of the following:

(1) The pitcher made a mistake in how the ball was thrown
(2) Some boring macho ‘beef’ is going on, and it was thrown at the batter on purpose

As such, awarding first base to the batsman can often be considered, on the surface, a punitive act against the pitching team. We, of course, know that there’s a third reason for a batsman being hit, and that’s the reason that sits in the margins of the rules. The batsman’s good at getting hit by a pitch.

And why not? If we consider hitting a single or working a walk to provide a worthwhile outcome, why should getting hit by a pitch be any different? Sure it may not look as elegant, and ok, dignity flies out of the window, but the team gets very similar benefits and even if you’ve managed not to shatter all of the bones in your elbow you’ve probably still got a cool welt to show for it.

The king of getting hit by pitches is a character from baseball’s past. Hughie Jennings played for the Baltimore Orioles, the Brooklyn Superbas and the Philadelphia Phillies between 1893 and 1903 getting hit a whopping 287 times, which is the current Major League record. So ready was he to be hit by a pitch, that in 1897, he took a ball to the head in the third inning and played through the fractured skull to the end of the game before collapsing unconscious for three days. Stories such as these may have been a little embellished, but the undeniably odd chap (look him up) clearly valued getting on base at almost any cost.

More recently Craig Biggio’s Hall of Fame career finished just two HBP short of Jennings’ with 285, leading the league five times.

Our current active leaders in getting hit by pitches are the Rangers’ Shin-Soo Choo with 150 and the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo with 145, 23rd and 24th of all time respectively. If Rizzo continues his penchant for decorating his ribs with bruising at the current rate, he’ll likely finish his career in the top 10.

So if you’re hoping to maximise your chance to see a game where a player gets hit by a pitch in 2020, is Choo’s Rangers against Rizzo’s Cubs the most likely place? Not necessarily, although coincidentally, Mike Minor plunked David Bote in the Cubs vs. Rangers clash on Opening Day last year. But, as they’re not playing each other this season, it’s probably not your best bet. Service time has assisted both Choo and Rizzo in accumulating their hefty totals. However, if we consider the players who have been hit at the highest rate over the last few years, we have some different names to consider.

I’m interested in finding out which episode of me sitting in front of the TV at 3am is most likely going to show grown men wincing in pain. I have divided my hit-by-pitch total by game rather than inning or plate appearance and filtered it with a completely arbitrary 500 plate appearances to reduce the noise.

Our list is topped by Brandon Guyer who, while being a fair outfielder and a good hitter of lefties, made his name by getting hit for the Rays, plunked for the Indians and beaned for the White Sox. Questions could be asked about his technique as he could often be seen to be stepping into a hit-by-pitch as ‘part of his swing mechanism’.

Unfortunately in our quest to find a game which will contain a hit-by-pitch, it is unlikely that we’ll see much or any of Guyer in the majors in 2020, the same can be said of Jung Ho Kang and Carlos Gomez. Without a team at the moment, Deitrich is also difficult to place, so we’ll discount him for the time being. This leaves us with Rizzo, Victor Robles, Robinson Chirinos, Jeff McNeil, Tyler Flowers and Pete Alonso.

A special mention should go to Arizona’s Tim Locastro. Having only amassed 265 plate appearances, he fell short of my arbitrary 500 minimum, however, in that time he’s already been hit by a staggering 23 balls which means that he gets plunked by pitches at a rate similar to a low-end backup catcher getting hits.

It’s tough to get hit by a pitch that isn’t thrown, so what we need is some pitchers.

The all-time leader in hitting batters plied his trade in yesteryear and finished playing before anyone alive today was born. Gus ‘Rubber arm gun’ Weyhing plunked 277 pitchers in his 14-year career spanning 1887-1901. He was a solidly good pitcher who got into trouble for stealing racing pigeons. When he wasn’t committing avian larceny, he was launching balls at helmetless batters including our old friend Mr Jennings.

While our modern-day hitters are getting plunked at a top 10 pace, the pitchers of today are not challenging the upper echelons of history. The current leader for hitting people with pitches is the Rays’ Charlie Morton who is 56th all-time with 117 and unlikely to climb much higher given his advancing baseball years.

Our leaderboard only takes into account starters as again I want the game with the HBP in, and as starters pitch more innings (yes I know openers and bulk guys exist) than relievers, there’s a far greater chance of them hitting a guy.

Our pitchers are a rich mix of CY Young contenders and uncontrollable hurlers, but they’re all likely to be on or around Major League teams in the coming season. Now we have all we need to put together some match-ups.

So, here we are, the series that are most likely going to provide you that dull thwack of ball shifting cartilage. Our top result would be the Tigers against the Nationals, but that’s not happening this year. Period. So here are our top three next best shots:

Nationals vs. Marlins

The first meeting of these intra-divisional ‘rivals’ will be 30th March for a three-game series in Marlins Park. Ball magnet Victor Robles will have a tough time dodging what’s hurled at him by Pablo Lopez.

Cubs vs. Orioles

The Orioles welcome the Cubs to Baltimore for some interleague play on the 14th and 15th of April. Future top 10 plunkee, Anthony Rizzo, has a chance to dance around what’s lumped in his general direction by Asher Wojciechowski.

Rangers vs. Royals

If you needed a reason to watch the Royals, here’s at least part of one! Robinson Chirinos fails to duck or dive against not one but TWO hurlers in Jorge Lopez and Jakob Junis.

Of course, the easier way to ensure that you get to see a plunking in 2020 is simply to watch the Astros.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire

Rob Noverraz is one of the new additions to the Bat Flips and Nerds podcast team. He’s a good follow on Twitter @RobNoverraz

Make sure you subscribe to the Bat Flips and Nerds podcasts and follow us on Twitter @BatFlips_Nerds. News, views and interviews, all with a British twist.

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