Steve Treder over at The Hardball Times has a good article today on hit batsmen and how it has changed over time. He reviews many of the arguments that I discussed in my series last summer...
As a conservative I appreciate Steves use of the Law of Unintended Consequences in positing that the introduction of batting helmets in the early 1960s and the adoption of the "zero-brushback-tolerance protocol" of the 1990s ironically may have contributed to the increasing rate at which hitters are plunked. This argument would also hold for the increased ability of players to wear body armor thereby leading to a kind of arms race in which hitters stand closer and pitchers try and back them off.
It struck me, however, in light of my columns the past two weeks, that the increasing size of major league hitters may also play a role all on its own, especially in the past 30 years. Larger hitters would likely be less afraid of being hit and observational evidence tells me that hitters today do less to avoid being hit than did hitters in the past. This struck home to me as I watched the footage from the 1954 World Series the other night.
I also noted that J.C. Bradbury mentions that he discusses how the distribution of talent in baseball has affected the HBP rate in his new book which should be available in mid-March. I'm looking forward to giving it a read.
Update: Baseball Musings has a little post on this subject and two interesting graphs. To me, the first illustrates that the rate of HBP has affected both low and high ERA pitchers roughly equally over the course of baseball history although in the last few years it seems to have diverged. The second graph is an illustration of how inferior pitchers now pick up more innings than they did in the past. It should be cautioned, however, that the increasing ERA of the leagues as a whole will cause some of this as the sub 5.00 ERA group shrinks and the +5.00 ERA group grows. Historically the +5.00 group would be very small simply because pitchers with ERAs that high would be so far from the mean.