Mapping Out the Hit-By-Pitches

Probably the biggest baseball story of last week was Carlos Quentin charging the mound after a hit-by-pitch and in the process badly injuring Zack Greinke. At first it looked like Quentin had done something completely stupid, then after some additional consideration, it looked like Quentin had done something completely stupid and Greinke also hadn’t helped himself. (Nuance.) The pitch that hit Quentin wasn’t that bad of a pitch. Quentin is no stranger to wearing it, and generally when you have a guy who gets hit a lot, that selection will include both wild pitches and surprisingly close pitches.

Dave put up a post about Carlos Quentin’s hit-by-pitch zone, which you can see here. As can be observed from the image, over the years Quentin has been hit by a few pitches that might’ve otherwise been borderline strikes. That gave Dave the idea to ask me about other hit-by-pitches that were at least borderline strikes. With the invaluable help of friend and colleague Matthew Carruth, I present to you an overall, league-wide hit-by-pitch zone map.


That covers the PITCHf/x era dating back to 2008. I eliminated data from 2007 because I find it to be unreliable, and it’s not like it would’ve changed very much. For the record, some of these pitch locations are wrong — the system has been kind of glitchy, and I hand-deleted a few data points before giving up. But the overall map looks about right. We’re seeing a pair of kidneys, or a pair of kidney beans, or angel wings, depending on your personality and what you were thinking about previous to reading this article. The strike-zone box is approximate, and included only for visual reference. It is an approximation of the rule-book strike zone, not the strike zones that actually get called in games.

The image is exactly what you’d expect, more or less. You get rough silhouettes of hitters on both sides of the plate, with bulk at the top around where the elbows and shoulders are. What you notice is that there are some pitches in and near to the zone box. Even if guys haven’t been hit by pitches right down the middle, they have been hit by pitches that at other times have been called strikes. Let’s quote an official rule, shall we:

The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when —
(b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;
If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.

I have never in my life seen a pitch hit a batter and then get called a strike, not counting the instances where it’s determined the ball hit the bat. Most pitches that hit batters, of course, are nowhere close to the strike zone, but every so often, there’s a borderline case for enforcement. But because it’s borderline, it isn’t enforced, because that just wouldn’t go over well. A team would feel like it’s being selectively enforced against, and that’s when teams start to think about the possibility of a bias.

The closest pitches within the data set, though? According to PITCHf/x, on May 18, 2008, Justin Duchscherer hit Jeff Francoeur with a pitch three inches from the center of the plate and a little over three feet off the ground. I have it at nine inches from the center of the zone, but because it happened so long ago I can’t confirm. Gameday doesn’t work and certainly doesn’t work. I’m inclined to believe this is a glitch, and not a truth.

Then we get Jason Vargas hitting Ryan Garko on July 26, 2009. I have this at 11.6 inches from the center of the zone, over the plate and more than three feet off the ground. Ryan Garko got hit by a lot of pitches, back when he faced pitches, and though I can’t confirm this with anything visual, we can turn to a Geoff Baker game blog post:

Vargas then saw his day end when plate umpire Delfin Colon ruled he’d hit Ryan Garko with a pitch. Garko barely reacted and appeared to lean in to the ball. The replays made it appear the ball never touched him. Vargas was incensed.

I have no recollection of there having been an umpire named Delfin Colon. I have less of a recollection of Ryan Garko than ever. Eventually, my recollections of Delfin Colon and Ryan Garko will converge. Colon is no longer a major-league umpire, perhaps thanks in part to rulings like this.

After that, Erik Bedard hitting Jason Giambi on May 2, 2008. Again, because it was 2008 I can’t post an image, but for the record I do actually remember this one, and it wasn’t a Gameday glitch. The pitch was an 0-and-2 curve 11.9 inches from the center of the zone, and it clipped Giambi’s elbow more than three feet off the ground but over the inner half of the plate. Giambi made no attempt to move, but he was awarded first base anyway, and I remember complaining at the time. At least, it should’ve been ruled a ball. At most, it could’ve been ruled a strike, if the umpire wanted to send a message.

Those are hit-by-pitches for which I don’t have visuals. Because you all want visuals, probably, here are the three closest hit-by-pitches just from the 2012 regular season. We begin with Octavio Dotel hitting Eduardo Escobar on September 28, with a pitch 12.0 inches from the center of the zone:



We move on to Sergio Romo hitting Danny Espinosa on July 5, with a pitch 12.1 inches from the center of the zone:



And here’s James Shields hitting John Jaso on July 20, with a pitch 13.4 inches from the center of the zone:



They’re probably not quite strikes. At the same time, they’re pitches that probably shouldn’t be hitting batters and sending them down to first base. Just in case you’re curious, here’s the opposite — here are the wildest pitches to hit batters in the 2012 regular season. This isn’t pertinent to the topic, but I couldn’t help myself:




And here’s 2013’s hit-by-pitch closest to being a strike, so far. We’ve got Jeff Locke hitting Shin-Soo Choo, and we’ve got a pitch 18.0 inches from the center of the zone:



Most hit-by-pitches are the result of bad pitches. Most hit-by-pitches are entirely inarguable. Every so often, a batter won’t make much of an effort, and there will be an opening for the umpire to just call the pitch a ball. Far less frequently, but not never, there will be an opening for the umpire to actually call the pitch a strike. To my knowledge no umpire has done this, and it would be a hell of a controversial decision, but by the letter of the law, it wouldn’t be wrong, and these situations don’t never happen. They just almost never happen, such that it’s not really something to worry about. Batters aren’t usually taking up space in the strike zone. They’re just sometimes taking up space really close to the strike zone.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

28 Responses to “Mapping Out the Hit-By-Pitches”

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  1. Menthol says:

    The HBP chart reminds me of feet, or kidneys, or embryos. What does that mean, Dr. Rorschach?

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  2. rustyspatula says:

    Does the anecdotal note that the three wildest pitches leading to a HBP were thrown to hitters with platoon advantage mean anything? Like if we look at the 30 wildest HBPs or something, does it hold up?

    In other words, will you post more gifs like the ones you did here?

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  3. Corey says:

    I’ve seen it called a strike. Not at the major league level though. You get down as low as high school ball and some of the divers aren’t as good at making it look like they weren’t diving, so it gets called every once in a while.

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  4. ABW says:

    To be fair to Choo that one tailed in on him. The one to Espinosa, where it looks like he actively moves his arm down into the path of the pitch, is pretty ridiculous.

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  5. ballhawk says:

    Jeff’s got a point. Dotel’s pitch may have been high, but it looked over the plate and Escobar had initiated his swing to get his elbow in the plane of the plate and get hit. My call, strike – he swung, and made no move to get out of the way (quite the opposite). If we’re giving him a breack, we might call it a ball. Not a hit by pitch take first base by a long shot, Escobar moved INTO the ball. It will be interesting to see if this ever plays out as a strike.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      We can’t tell whether that would have been called a strike — it’s high and inside, and even if it might have scraped the edge of the zone, umpires don’t give a lot of strikes on pitches at the extreme corners of the strike zone. What’s more of a question is if Escobar took a real swing. He clearly starts to swing at the pitch, but was he able to check it? It looks like he did, but hard to really tell for sure from a gif. Was the swing a purposeful attempt to get hit by the pitch? I find that one a little sketchy.

      As for trying to get out of the way, that’s murkier. It’s going to be difficult for a player that’s already started a swing to reverse course and try to get out of the way of the pitch. He does raise his arms up as he’s checking his swing, which suggests he made some kind of move to avoid the pitch. Was it really an effort, or was it just enough to make it look like an effort?

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    • Bronnt says:

      Yeah, that’s what the Escobar swing looked like to me. Like he started swinging so he could throw his elbow into the pitch.

      I’m less certain about the John Jaso one. You could make the case he did something similar, or you could just argue that he was just legitimately starting his swing and got his arm in the way.

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  6. Nate says:

    The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when –

    From that statement from the rule book, you could argue that a batter who charges the mound, does not advance to first and is therefore out. In fact, how can you argue that he is not out?

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    • Earl says:

      if this were enforced, this might be a good way to cut down on the shenanigans

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    • TKDC says:

      You can argue based on over a hundred years of baseball history, but nothing else. Aside from that, this seems tough to argue. And it is convenient, too, as it might help stop the already very infrequent mound charges.

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  7. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Very interesting.

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  8. derp says:

    The first thing I noticed was the lefty bulk being much closer to the zone than the righty bulk. No doubt this is because of umps being incapable of calling a proper strike zone for left handed hitters, forcing them to lean over to hit pitches in the other batters box that are called strikes.

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  9. apuhlir says:

    Jeff, I forget which game, but in this year’s WBC a batter was hit and it was ruled a strike. This was the only time I recall ever seeing the rule be applied though. Someone with a better memory can fill in the details I’m sure.

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  10. TKDC says:

    There are much better examples. These pitches don’t really look like strikes and honestly I don’t think hitters swing there elbows out to try to get hurt. The real problem is not strikes, but the change ups and breaking balls where the hitter just turns his shoulder and takes the glancing blow and walks to first base.

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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    I think when a batter gets hit on their back forearm, they really are just stopping the swing. When they get hit on the “front flipper”, they are likely trying to get hit in the front flipper.

    SSC actually tries to get out of the way and the pitch that hit him is above the batter’s box line, not all that close to the plate.

    I want to ask Espinosa why he didn’t swing at that pitch.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Choo tries to get out of the way? What?

      I suppose you could say he “made an effort” to get out of the way, if you have a low bar for what constitutes “an effort”.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        You guys understand that you cannot hit major league pitching well AND be able to dive out of the way of everything inside, right?

        He turns away, at least.

        As a former pitcher I would consider that to be doing something. When he turns his right upper arm does NOT toward the ball as so many others do when they are “turning away”, when they are actually “turning in”.

        In college we had certain players that would actually practice “turning away” and seeing how much closer to the plate they could get their hip. They’d drive opposing pitchers/coaches crazy.

        Choo’s hands start out hanging over the inside corner and end up above the batter’s box line. What would you call it? His body moves further away from the plate as compared to where it starts.

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  12. Scott says:

    I think you mistyped – the line should be “Just in case your browser is still working, here are 4 GIFs in a row.”

    I know I’m not the only one here – there are reports of people using Google Fiber who can download a movie in 20 seconds, but are still slowed down by GIFs. These things are great in theory but often cause browser destruction.

    It’s gotten much better, but I BEG you to compress even further.

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  13. Bryz says:

    I remember a time when A.J. Pierzynski (while with the White Sox) was hit by a pitch right in the chest, but it was called a strike because he had gone too far with his check swing. I know he’s an aggressive hitter, but geez, that’s taking it a bit too far.

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  14. Jeff Francoeur says:

    Even the ump was surprised I didn’t swing

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  15. deacondrake says:

    Espinosa was hit by a pitch on the hand against Atlanta last week that HAD to be a strike… he started his swing and literally pushed his hands out to take the HBP.

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  16. TruckStop says:

    What’s with the data point at 0 high and .7 to the right? Was the batter actually stepping on the plate when they got hit?

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