That's right, Baseball is back. Not that spring training kind of baseball where they let games end in a tie, and let lots of guys you've never heard of with really high numbers on their backs play the games, and sometimes split the team into two different teams and play in two places at once. That's just weird. No, this is the regular season. Real baseball. With the guys you've heard of, guys you've seen playing for years whose batting stance you can imitate. Those guys who you've watched so much you know they're going to swing at the slider low and away or the fast ball up and in. And those guys who've played long enough where everything they do that's recorded statistically moves them past someone whose name you might recognize on the all time list for doing that thing. But you can only move past those names on those lists until you get to the top - and there are no names to pass. That's where Craig Biggio will be at the end of this season - with no names left to pass on the all time list for HBPs. It may not mean he's the best player ever, or even the best ever at taking plunks for the team, but one thing it definitely means is that no one has ever done it before. At least no while anyone was counting.
Last season, 708,770 pitches were thrown and 1,817 of them hit 424 batters (give or take a few the umpires didn't see or didn't feel like counting). Nearly twice as many batters had plate appearance last year but didn't get hit by a pitch - 843 of them - though those players who made it through the year with no plunks only totaled 26,800 plates appearance, compared to 161,972 for the third of the league that did.
Anyone can get hit by a pitch, but not everyone does, and not everyone should. By all accounts, it hurts. And can cause serious injury. But it's going to happen, so we might as well keep a few simple rules in mind. Pitchers, if you can't get a guy out without trying to put him in the hospital, maybe you need more practice. Or a new career. If you think you need to intimidate, but you don't throw hard enough to convince people to move when you throw the ball, see above regarding practice and career opportunities in other fields. Batters, keep in mind that pitchers make mistakes. When those mistakes hit you, you get to go to first base. Make the most of that opportunity. If the pitch looks like it's going to deliver more pain than your willing to take for the team, get out of the way. But try not to get all upset when your playing baseball and someone throws a ball near you. Besides, if you feel the need to charge the mound, think about poor Chris Bootcheck - the Angels relief pitcher who went on the DL for two months last year after pulling a muscle while running in from the bullpen to join a bench clearing brawl after Jason Kendall charged the mound.
Anyway, lets plunk safely out there.
Biggio resumes the quest for 288 (cleverly camouflaged by a chase for 3000 hits) against the Pirates, and their starting pitcher Zach Duke, in Houston tonight. Duke has never plunked Biggio and the Pirates haven't done it since May 6, 2004. Duke surrender 3 hits to Biggio last year, and led the majors with 255 hits allowed, but he only hit 7 batters - David Eckstein, Shawn Green, Geoff Jenkins, Yadier Molina, Eric Munson, Austin Kearns, and Prince Fielder.
If Biggio gets plunked by Duke today, it will be his first career plunk on opening day, and the first time he's been hit by someone who's first name begins with Z. N, Q and U are the only other first initials missing from the list of names who have plunked Biggio.
Aaron Cook plunked Biggio on April 2, 2003, for the Rockies.
Labels: Opening Day