Saturday, August 9, 2014


In probably the most controversial case of hit-by-pitch retribution this year, the Diamondbacks responded to Pirates reliever Ernesto Frieri hitting their star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, breaking his hand and ending his season, by hitting the Pirates' defending MVP, Andrew McCutchen, the next day, maybe or maybe not directly or indirectly causing a rib injury that may or may not put him on the disabled list. The absence of McCutchen could be devastating to the Pirates, who currently trail the Brewers by 1.5 games in the NL Central and lead the Cardinals and Giants by half a game in the National League Wild Card race. Frieri, who has had problems with his command all season (3.0 walks and 2.4 homers per nine innings, 7.34 ERA), fairly obviously hit Goldschmidt accidentally. Diamondbacks reliever Randall Delgado fairly obviously hit McCutchen on purpose.

Arizona has a reputation for hitting opposing batters, after their GM, Kevin Towers, lamented during the offseason that the team doesn't do it enough. Memorably, Diamondbacks pitcher Evan Marshall obviously intentionally hit Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun June 17 to the cheers of Arizona teammates and fans. The problem was, he loaded the bases for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy in a game Arizona was leading 4-3. On the first pitch from reliever Brad Ziegler (Marshall was ejected), Lucroy blasted a grand slam to give the Brewers a 7-4 lead in a game they went on to win 7-5. The Diamondbacks' headhunting in that game may have cost them a victory.

This has led to all sorts of discussion about unwritten you-hit-my-guy-I-hit-yours rules, which teams' batters stand too close to the plate, and which teams' pitchers pitch inside the most. My friend David wondered which teams are the most notorious for hitting batters and for getting hit. That's easy enough to find out.

Here are the ten major league teams that have had the most batters hit by pitches this season: 
   1. Pittsburgh    60
   2. St. Louis     58
   3. Milwaukee     52
   4. Boston        46
   5. Tampa Bay     44
   6. Baltimore     43
      Seattle       43
      Texas         43
   9. White Sox     41
  10. Hou, LAA, Was 40

Makes you wonder about the NL Central, where the three top teams have been hit the most in baseball, doesn't it? 

And here are the pitching staffs that have hit the most batters:
   1. Pittsburgh    61
   2. White Sox     52
   3. Baltimore     50
   4. Yankees       49
   5. St. Louis     48
   6. Angels        47
      Philadelphia  47
   8. Houston       44
      Kansas City   44
  10. Cin, TB       43

Well, well. Pirates games certainly feature a lot of hit batsmen, don't they? Same with several of the other teams on the list.

This made me think: Who are the biggest victims and victimizers? Whose batters get hit more often than their pitchers hit batters, and vice-versa? Here are the victims, the teams with highest number of batters' HBP minus pitchers' HBP:
   1. Milwaukee     23
   2. Boston        20
   3. Minnesota     15
   4. St. Louis     10
   5. Seattle        8
   6. Atlanta        7
   7. Texas          6
      Washington     6
   9. Arizona        5
  10. Dodgers        4

I wouldn't read much into those figures once you get past the top three or four - we're 114 games into the season, so Atlanta's difference of 7, for example, means that an Atlanta batter gets hit without an opposing batter getting hit once every 16+ games. That's not much of a trend. But I wouldn't have expected the Diamondbacks to be on this list, not with their headhunting reputation.

And who are the victimizers, who hit other teams' batters in excess of their hitter getting plunked?
   1. Miami         13
      Philadelphia  13
   3. White Sox     11
      Kansas City   11
      Yankees       11
   6. Toronto        9
   7. Colorado       8
   8. Baltimore      7
      Angels         7
      Padres         7

Yeah, I'm thinking the same thing: Huh? This is not exactly a rogues' gallery of teams with a reputation for playing dirty.

What can we learn from this? Not a lot. We don't know how many times a pitcher hits a batter accidentally or purposely from looking at the raw numbers, nor how often a batter bails out on an inside pitch or stands in there, taking his base. We don't know how many times a batter's hit in act of retaliation, and how many of those are the teams' stars. But I think we can say three things with certainty:

  1. For the most part, teams' pitchers hit batters about as often as its batters get hit.
  2. Contrary to what sportswriters may say about Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson throwing at batters (I discussed Gibson's somewhat undeserved reputation last fall), we are not living in an era during which pitchers are unwilling to hit batters. Batters are getting hit once every 17.5 games this year. That's the 18th most in history (since 1901). The top 25 are all from the years 1901-1913 and 2001-2014. 
  3. Despite their reputation, the Diamondbacks have hit 34 batters this year, tying for the eighth fewest in baseball. Go figure.

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