Friday, September 28, 2007

pointing fingers

There is still time for Craig Biggio to break the all-time HBP record - but not much of it. He needs 3 plunks in 3 games, and while he has been plunked that many times in a 3 game span 20 times before, he's never done it against the Braves. He's been plunked 3 times in 3 games by the same team 5 times, most recently in 2005 when the Rockies did it (though they only took 2 games to do it).

But, it looks very likely that Biggio will fall short of Hughie Jennings amazing total of 287 HBPs. This will undoubtedly be very disappointing to a large number of fans, and when baseball fans and people in general are disappointed, we like to blame people. Right or wrong, we always find someone to blame. So, lets start throwing the blame around now so that on Sunday, when Craig Biggio's career ends, we can celebrate, knowing we've already thrown all the blame around we wanted to.

Obviously at the top of the list, you can blame me. We've all seen the stories in the news about how the media pressure of the plunk chase has ground it to a halt, and the clear record-setter for most words written about Craig Biggio getting hit by pitches is held by this website. Maybe I cared too much. Maybe if this site had never existed, no one would have noticed how often Biggio was getting hit by pitches and he would have been able to cruise past the record sometime last season. Instead, I had to make a big deal out of it and get everyone thinking about whether or not they WANTED the record broken - particularly the pitchers and umpires who could most effect the record chase. Then people some people got upset about whether or not wearing elbow pads should be allowed - and other people started getting bent out of shape about how hard a batter should try to get out of the way of pitches. Controversy - our largest and most un-productive export.

Blame me if you must, but here are a few others who could have contributed more, or gotten in the way less:
  • John Burkett. Biggio had 77 plate appearances against John Burkett and Burkett didn't contribute a single plunk to Biggio's total. Sure, Tom Glavine and Curt Schilling may have faced Biggio more times and they never hit him either, but Glavine has only hit one out of ever 286 batters he's faced in his career, and Schilling only hits about one out every 255 batters. Burkett, on the other hand, hit one batter in 126, and since he faced Biggio 77 times, he should have plunked him 0.61 times. Okay, it's hard to throw 6 tenths of a plunk, but the point is that if Burkett had plunked Biggio at the same rate he plunked the rest of the league, he probably should have hit Biggio once. But, Biggio has historically been hit nearly three (2.96) times more frequently per plate appearance than the league, so if Burkett had plunked Biggio 2.96 times more often than he plunked the rest of the league, he really should have contributed 1.83 plunks. We can round that up and claim Burkett owes Biggio 2 plunks. Not that we're saying Burkett should have thrown at him twice - it's just that the stats may suggest that Burkett was pitching around Biggio for a net result of two less plunks than he should have had.
  • Ramon Martinez, Julian Tavarez, Mark Prior and Woody Williams - using the same logic and stats above, they all should have plunked Biggio at least once.
  • Matt Morris - he hit Biggio once, but based on the same logic above, he probably should have plunked Biggio once more.
  • Umpire Doug Eddings - He's an easy target. On August 28, 2005, Jeff Weaver hit Craig Biggio with a pitch, but Eddings didn't award Biggio first base, claiming Biggio didn't make enough effort to avoid being hit. He's the only umpire to make such a call against Biggio, and it's well within the rules for him to do so, even if it was not the right call in that particular circumstance. That only technically kept 1 plunk out of Biggio's total, but it may have demoralized him and made him less willing to take plunks, knowing the umpires may not react properly, and reward him for taking one for the team.
  • The 2006 Pirates - Biggio had 65 plate appearance against the 2006 Pirates, and they didn't plunk him once. The Pirates hit 70 batters last year, at a rate of one per 90.8 plate appearances, so they should have hit Biggio 0.72 times if they plunked him at the average rate they plunked the rest of the league. But even last year with his HBPs on the decline, Biggio got hit 50% more often then the league average - so they really should have hit him more than not at all last year. You can throw the '05 Pirates in here too, along with the '04-'06 Cubs, the '99 and '04 Cardinals and the '99 Brewers. All of them should have plunked Biggio more than they did (though a couple of them did contribute 1).
  • Dave Bush - he hit 18 batters last season, and faced the Astros 4 times, but didn't throw Biggio anything he could get hit by. The only pitcher to hit more batters in season, who face Biggio at least once and didn't hit him that season, was Victor Zambrano in 2003 - he hit 20 batters, but only faced Biggio 4 times. Dave Bush had plenty of opportunities, but probably didn't want to see his name on the list.
  • Jeff Bagwell's doctors -241 of Biggio's 285 plunks were recorded in games Biggio and Bagwell played together. The pair obviously inspired each other to be better players, and part of that had to be Biggio's desire to get on base in front of Bagwell. The HBP was a weapon for that purpose. The two seasons Biggio has played since Bagwell was forced into retirement but injuries have shown a dramatic decline in Biggio getting hit by pitches, and it can't be a coincidence.
  • Major League Baseball and the Media - No, not because of the pressure they've put on Biggio, and not because they're not doing enough to celebrate the plunk chase, and not because Bud Selig hasn't been attending Astros games so he can be there for the historic moment, though you can argue those points if you like. No, this is about the "Modern Record" or the "Major League Record" or any other record that isn't the 287 plunks recorded by Hughie Jennings. There is a large number of members of the media who figure Biggio already has the HBP record because MLB liked to call Baylor's 267 plunks the Major League record - meaning the record since 1900 - or since the American League showed up and the two leagues started to be called the Major Leagues. Or something. Anyway, because of this confusion many people don't seem to think there's a record to be broken here, or that it's important and over 100 years old. Is there another stat that you ever hear connected with the phrase "modern record"?
  • Barry Bonds - C'mon - you know you want to blame him. Just do it. Do we really need a reason?
  • Roger Clemens - Yeah, I just don't like him either. But if he'd gone away after 2005, maybe the Astros would have rebuilt a bit in 2006, and they would have been better in 2007. Maybe. And maybe Biggio would have felt getting hit this season would have meant more if they hadn't been out of contention all season.
  • Everyone who pitched to Biggio this season not named Josh Fogg, Joe Smith or Jorge Julio - Thanks for stepping up. Jerks.
  • The Braves - The Atlanta Braves are last in the NL in all-time plunking of Biggio, behind 4 teams that weren't even in the National League for Biggio's entire career. They're also dead last in Biggio's plunks per plate appearance (among teams that hit him at least once). In 1996, the Braves were the only team Biggio faced who he didn't get hit by - that's the closest he ever came to getting hit by every team he played against (he did get hit by every NL team in '97, but interleague play came in that year). The Braves have shown an uncommon reluctance to hit batters over the last 20 years, and finished dead last in the majors 7 times. From 1988 to 2006, the Braves average 8 fewer plunks per season than the next lowest team, and only the Diamondbacks have hit fewer batters in that span. Oh yeah, the Diamondbacks only hit 79 fewer batters than the Braves from 1988 to 2006, even thought Diamondbacks didn't exist for 10 of those seasons.
  • Whiners - They're all over the internet, but I'm pretty sure the sentiment exists in the clubhouses too. These are the people who are pretty sure wearing an elbow pad is a crime against humanity and not moving out of the way of a pitch is somehow "cheating". I'm sure this crowd really enjoyed the high-profile plunk related wrist injuries this season, like Chase Utley and Kevin Youkilis - Youk was even wearing an elbow pad when he got hit on the wrist and missed three weeks in September. That one was exactly the kind of pitch everyone gets upset about when Biggio used to take them in the elbow-pad instead of getting his wrist broken. Have we learned nothing from Stephen Colbert's Wrist Strong movement? It's about time baseball players understood this, and learned to wear regulation arm-guards and to use them to protect their wrists. Also, for some reason we have a league where throwing at a batter is acceptable behavior, and charging the mound is acceptable behavior, but standing still in the batters box and refusing to let the pitcher intimidate you is a capital offense. Makes sense to me - keep up that theory. John Lackey clearly stated this last season.
  • Astros management - They gave Biggio plenty of playing time to reach 3000 hits, but then they started limiting his starts, as though the HBP record wasn't important to anyone. I assume this was the main reason Phil Garner and Tim Purpura were fired, but someone should have done something before it was too late.
  • Republicans - Biggio got hit 232 times while the Republican Party controlled congress, but only 53 times when the Democrats held the majority. If the Republicans had held the majority in the 2006 elections, Biggio obviously would have been hit by more pitches this year.
  • Democrats - They obviously have some kind of anti-HBP policy that's kept Biggio from getting hit while they held the majority in Congress.
  • Voters - See above. All this information was available on the internet before the mid-term elections, but you didn't care. You had to selfishly vote based on how you wanted the country run or something. Didn't someone once say "Ask not what you're country can do for you, ask what you can do to help Craig Biggio break the all time record for getting hit by pitches".
  • The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Mariners, Tigers, and Angels - you couldn't hit Biggio even once? Any of you? Not that you should have done it on purpose - but everyone else did it so you must have been trying not to. And that's just wrong.
  • Zeno of Elea - The Greek Mathematician who liked to annoy philosophy students by pointing out that to get from point A to point B you have to go to a point half way between them, but once you get to that half way point you must go to the half way point between there and B. And so you can never get to B because you keeping having to go to all these half way to B points, which are (according to Zeno) infinite or something. Well Craig Biggio is doing a great real life example of that wacky little theory - at the beginning of 2005 he needed 32 plunks to break the record and got 17 - one more than half way. At the beginning of 2006 he needed 15 plunks, and got 9 - one more than half way rounded up. This year he needed 6 and has 3 so far. It seems that Biggio can't reach the record because he keeps having to get half way their first.
  • The Yankees - Everything that's wrong with baseball that isn't Barry Bonds fault is the Yankees fault, and I'm willing to consider the idea that Barry Bonds is the Yankees fault.
Okay - I feel better now. Feel free to add anyone you think I may have missed, in the comments. Otherwise, on with the last three games of Biggio's career, come what may.


At 9/28/2007 08:01:00 PM, Anonymous Thesilenceiskillingme said...

Very insightful of you to blame Zeno, who has gotten a free pass from plunkcounters for far too long. But we might take solace in Zeno's belief in an unchanging, baseball-shaped universe. Further, by his logic, Biggio will never retire, because he will keep approaching the moment of retirement, but never quite reach it. This is strangely comforting, and also helps explain Julio Franco.

At 9/28/2007 10:42:00 PM, Anonymous Joe In Birmingham said...

Damn you're good.

At 9/30/2007 10:48:00 AM, Anonymous Patrick McKula said...

I can't believe you didn't blame OJ - you just know he's behind this fiasco somehow


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