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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Getting Plunked

The third part of my series of articles on hit batsmen is up on BP. Part one looked at the big picture trends from 1901-2005, part two explored a few alternate theories I hadn't considered and that were related to the big picture. Part three today takes a look at the differences between leagues related to the introduction of the designated hitter, expansion, and the double-warning rule.

In the latest article I considered the effect of players who were plunked much more than average. In doing so I referenced Don Baylor, Chet Lemon, Craig Biggio and others. For those curious here are the top 20 players in terms of HBP per 1,000 plate appearances since 1901.

Name PA HBP Rate Period
Craig Wilson 1836 81 44.1 2001-2005
F.P. Santangelo 2014 83 41.2 1995-2001
Ron Hunt 6033 243 40.3 1963-1974
Jason LaRue 2290 85 37.1 1999-2005
Fernando Vina 4685 157 33.5 1993-2004
Jason Kendall 5908 197 33.3 1996-2005
Charlie Babb 1350 45 33.3 1903-1905
Bert Daniels 2178 72 33.1 1910-1914
Reed Johnson 1465 48 32.8 2003-2005
Red Killefer 1719 54 31.4 1907-1916
Dan McGann 4000 125 31.3 1901-1908
Olmedo Saenz 1539 47 30.5 1994-2005
Kid Elberfeld 4939 147 29.8 1901-1914
Steve Evans 3829 111 29.0 1908-1915
Don Baylor 9270 267 28.8 1970-1988
David Eckstein 3151 89 28.2 2001-2005
Doc Gessler 3394 92 27.1 1903-1911
Jack O'Neill 1024 27 26.4 1902-1906
Dick Padden 1663 43 25.9 1901-1905
Joe Yeager 1806 46 25.5 1901-1908

You'll note that there are lots of current and modern players in the list. This is due to the fact that historically we're at almost an all time high for HBP rates and a rising tide lifts all boats. Interestingly, I heard Bert Blyleven interviewed on the local ESPN radio affiliate yesterday and he, like many former pitchers, was bemoaning the lack of aggressive pitching on the part of modern pitchers. As is typical he implied that hitters aren't hit as much which of course is patently false.

In thinking about this common perception it occurs to me there are two explanations. First, there is a human tendancy to view our past as a "golden age" when things were as they should be and things were better. In this case pitchers were better since they stood up to hitters etc. On the other hand, Blyleven could very well be correct. Pitchers today hit more batters, true, but they do so out of accident rather than intent. This is consistent with the fluctuating strike zone, aluminum bat, and even the body armor theories I discussed in the articles.

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