2007 Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks
If success in baseball is judged by plunking Craig Biggio and the Houston Astros, the 2006 Arizona Diamondbacks were a pretty successful team. They joined the Cardinals as the only teams to plunk Biggio twice in 2006. They were also the only team outside the Astros division to hit Houston's batters 9 times, and they had they threw more HBPs per Houston plate appearance than any opposing team by a margin of 28%. The 2006 Diamondbacks plunked Astros at a rate of about 1 every 43 plate appearances.
But, some choose to look at the game through the lens of the win/loss record, and if you want to look at it that way, the Diamondbacks finished tied for last place in the NL West. But, if they don't improve this year, it probably won't be due to lack of pitching (though lack of healthy pitching would be a different story). Returning for the D-backs are Juan Cruz, who hit 11 batters including Craig Biggio last season, Livan Hernandez, who hit Biggio with a pitch for the Nationals last year before being traded to Arizona, and the 2006 NL Cy Young award winner, Brandon Webb, who plunked Biggio once in 2004. They also have Jorge Julio and Jose Valverde who both plunked Biggio in 2005. And just in case that wasn't going to be enough plunking power, the D-backs have brought back Randy Johnson from New York. Johnson has never hit Biggio with a pitch, but he is the active leader in career plunks with 178. Johnson, by the way, might be closing in on the all time record for hitting batters, but the problem with breaking that one is that no one seems to agree on what it is. Retrosheet.org, baseball-reference.com, and the Lahman database all list Walter Johnson as the all time leader at 203 hit batters. That number should be within reach, particularly if Randy Johnson keeps playing more than the two years he's under contract for. Baseball-Almanac.com lists Walter Johnson's career total as 205 - two more than the other sites, and lists Chick Fraser as the all time leader, with 219. MLB.com's stats page agrees with Baseball-Almanac's totals for Johnson and Fraser, but lists Gus Weyhig with an amazing 277 plunks as the all time leader. None of the other sites list Weyhig as having hit nearly that many. Clearly the pitching side of plunks was not as well documented in the pre-1900 years as the hitting (or getting hit) side was, and I blame a lack of 19th century blogging. This might be a case where it would make sense to have a "modern" or "post-1900" record for this category, but all 205 or 203 of Walter Johnson's plunks came after 1900 (he started in 1907). Hopefully, the SABR people, or somebody, will sort this out eventually.
Anyway, the Diamondbacks pitching staff has a lot of experience hitting batters, and several of them have experience plunking Craig Biggio. They have the means, and some of them appear to have a motive, and they'll have 7 opportunities to throw a historic plunk in May. As you may have read in previous season previews, Biggio needs 6 plunks for 288 and the all time record, and Biggio has recorded his 6th plunk of the season in May during 8 of his 16 seasons in which he's had 6 or more plunks*. No other month can claim more than 3 of Biggio's 6th plunks. Arizona visits Houston on May 11th to 13th, and the Astros are at Arizona May 24th to 27th.
Although those May dates might be prime opportunities for the D-backs to throw Biggio's 288th plunk, they are going to be too early to give up Biggio's 3000th career hit. The second series with the D-backs ends on the Astros 51st game of the season, and Biggio has recorded 70 hits in 51 games or less several dozen times, but he hasn't had a hot streak like that since '99, and none of those 70 hit spans were at the beginning of a season. The earliest in a season Biggio has recorded his 70th hit was June 2, in 1998.
Besides plunking Biggio twice, the Diamondbacks also plunked Chris Burke, Morgan Ensberg, Aubrey Huff (twice), Orlando Palmeiro, and Willy Taveras (twice) from last year's Astros. In the rest of the league, they hit Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Frandsen three times each, and hit Eliezer Alfonzo, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Russell Martin, John Rodriguez and Aaron Rowand twice. They also plunked Garrett Atkins,
Clint Barmes, Adrian Beltre, Jamey Carroll, Sean Casey, Ronny Cedeno, Chris Coste, Edwin Encarnacion, Brian Giles, Marcus Giles, Adrian Gonzalez, Luis A. Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Nick Johnson, Jeff Kent, Corey Koskie, Todd Linden, Gary Matthews, Aaron Miles, Lastings Milledge, Xavier Nady, Miguel Olivo, Jay Payton, Brandon Phillips, Mike Piazza, Todd Pratt, Albert Pujols, Juan Rivera, Freddy Sanchez, Jason Smith, Scott Spiezio, Chase Utley and Rickie Weeks once each. They hit just 16 batters at home, compared to 45 road plunks, and only 3 of the of the 61 pitches they threw for an HBP were thrown by a lefthanded pitcher. Randy Johnson should certainly bring that number up in '07.
Also of interest, if you're watching the Diamondbacks, is their young outfielder Carlos Quentin. He was hit by 8 pitches in the majors last year, in just 191 plate appearances, but he's been reportedly hit 103 times in the minor leagues, and 48 times in college. That is some solid get-hitting right there.
*-If you were wondering how many other players have been hit at least 6 times in at least 16 seasons, the answer is 2. Don Baylor had 17 seasons with 6 or more plunks, and Frank Robinson had 18.