Sunday, November 30, 2014

Phillip Hughes, 1988-2014

No, not that Phil Hughes. This Phillip Hughes played cricket, a sport about which we hear next to nothing in the U.S. But on Thanksgiving, the news broke that he died, three days short of his 26th birthday. He suffered head injuries from the cricket equivalent of being hit by a pitch two days earlier.

When I link to other articles here, I'm generally linking to writers at analytically-oriented websites rather than the mainstream media. It's not because I have anything against the traditional journalists, it's just that they don't generally cover the aspects of baseball I'm exploring. Buster Olney of ESPN is one of the best, and he wrote a spot-on piece about Hughes on Friday. You have to be an ESPN Insider to read it (note that if you play an ESPN fantasy game, you're an Insider), but it links what happened to Hughes, a cricketer in Australia, to what goes on in baseball in the U.S.: 
Maybe it's time to evolve to this: Intentionally hitting a batter for any reason is just wrong, and stupid, and dangerous. And if all the players begin to believe this, rather than thinking there is a proper way to retaliate, then progress will be made for all of them.
What happened to Phillip Hughes was an accident. What happens when a baseball player's hit by a pitch often isn't. Think of the game in June when Diamondbacks pitcher Evan Marshall intentionally hit Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, an idiotic move that resulted in the next Brewers hitter, Jonathan Lucroy, hitting a go-ahead grand slam. Or last August when another Diamondbacks pitcher, Randall Delgado, purposely hit Pirates star Andrew McCutchen. Both times, the batter was hit in retaliation for an Arizona batter being hit earlier in the game. Braun took a pitch to his rear end, but McCutchen was nailed in the back by a 95 mph fastball that put him out of play for 14 games. As Olney points out in his article, major league pitchers can't place a ball perfectly from 60 feet and 6 inches away, and a fastball that's supposed to hit a player in the back could easily hit him in the head instead.

Look, I've written a lot about batters being hit by pitches (here, here, and here), because the rate's been rising and nobody seems to have noticed, much less done anything about it. My conclusion, in the last piece to which I linked, is that rising hit by pitch rates are a consequence of rising strikeouts, because batters are more likely to be hit when the pitcher's ahead on the count. (The most dangerous counts for batters, in terms of the risk of being hit by a pitch), are 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, and 0-1, and those are all paths to strikeouts.) But I never talk about hit batters as "plunking" or something innocuous sounding like that. A baseball is a hard object, thrown at high speed from a short distance to a player who's pretty much defenseless. Phillip Hughes was wearing a helmet much more extensive than a baseball batting helmet, and he was killed, accidentally, by a ball that bounced before it came to him. Why should we allow pitchers to throw straight at a batter? Yes, I know, they've done it for over a century and it's part of the game and all that, but tripping baserunners and lacerating fielders with sharpened spikes used to be part of the game too. That sort of thing was legislated out of the game. So should, as Olney suggests, intentionally throwing at batters. 

No comments:

Post a Comment