Something I like to look at after every season is a chart of the locations of all the season’s intentional balls. Intentional balls, of course, are supposed to be super far away from the strike zone, but out of any such group there has to be a pitch that’s closest to being a strike, and for some reason those pitches fascinate me. This project would by no means be timely right now, in the middle of the playoffs, but something that is timely is something very similar. Along a similar vein to intentional balls, we have hit-by-pitches.
Hit-by-pitches just about have to be pitches out of the zone, in order to hit a batter, since batters stand some distance away from the plate. These pitches aren’t thrown wildly intentionally, but the locations are generally way off regardless, because pitchers aren’t perfect. But out of the pool of all hit-by-pitches, there has to be a pitch closest to having been in the zone. What follows is inspired by Shane Victorino.
Two things. In an earlier poll post about Prince Fielder and hit-by-pitches, the pertinent rule was laid out clearly: if a pitch hits a batter, but the pitch was in the zone, the pitch is to be called a strike, no matter what the batter does. This, of course, pretty much never happens, because the zone is occupied by the swing path, not by the hitter’s body. Even those players who lean over the zone tend not to lean into the zone, and you can miss high just as you can miss to the sides.
And, here’s a tweet from Tuesday from Brian MacPherson. Shane Victorino was hit twice by Rays pitchers in Game 4, and the first pitch was almost right there. Gameday made the pitch look like a borderline strike. Here are some helpful visuals:
What we can tell is that the pitch was not in the zone. It was very close to the inside edge, maybe even nicking it, but it was high, up near Victorino’s elbows. That pitch never goes for a called strike, nevermind what your grandfather tells you about the strike zone when he was a boy. You’re free to argue whether that should’ve gone as a hit-by-pitch or a ball, but there’s no argument that should’ve been a strike.
But it is the kind of hit-by-pitch that makes you wonder, so I decided to track down the nearest strike of all of 2013’s HBPs, inspired by Victorino. Following is a graph of either those, or Edinson Volquez‘s overall 2013 pitch locations:
Around that approximated central box, you see mirroring kidney beans. Hitters, basically, are giant kidney beans. The overwhelming, overwhelming majority of those hit-by-pitches were nowhere close to the zone, striking legs, arms, backs, and butts. But there were a few in tight. Following, some close hit-by-pitches as we build to the closest hit-by-pitch.
David DeJesus, 10/5
David Lough, 8/31
Ryan Flaherty, 4/13
Munenori Kawasaki, 9/14 (bad call)
Alejandro De Aza, 7/6
Derek Dietrich, 5/16
Starling Marte, 6/5
Shane Victorino, 9/21
All of those pitches were close, as hit-by-pitches go. We even see another cameo from Shane Victorino, taking advantage of an unsuspecting Mark Buehrle. However, none of those pitches were the closest. The hit-by-pitch closest to being in the strike zone of 2013 was thrown by James Shields in Kansas City on August 11, and it struck none other than…Shane Victorino, who it turns out is incredibly obnoxious.
Not only did Victorino get hit by the pitch — he moved his elbow into the path of it, seemingly on purpose, spoiling an otherwise perfect 0-and-2 delivery near the inner edge. This pitch wasn’t even three feet off the ground at the front plane, so by height, it was probably within even the 0-and-2 strike zone. The center of the baseball was about 1.3 inches from the edge of the plate, via PITCHf/x. A baseball is just about three inches in diameter. It’s conceivable, then, if not probable, that some of this baseball caught the edge, right at Victorino’s belt. The umpire ruled this a legitimate hit-by-pitch. He didn’t even just stick Victorino with a ball. Despite the Royals’ protests, Victorino was given his base, and though the pitch clearly hurt him a little, that’s what happens when you allow that to happen to you. Even Shane Victorino is human.
This season, 0.8% of plate appearances ended with a hit-by-pitch. Over Shane Victorino’s career, 1.6% of his plate appearances have ended with a hit-by-pitch. Batting lefty, that rate has been just 0.9%. But this year Victorino has temporarily given up switch-hitting, batting righty against righties and lefties alike. Batting righty against a lefty, he’s been hit 4.1% of the time. Batting righty against a righty, he’s been hit 10% of the time. This season, over 125 plate appearances against righties batting righty, Victorino’s been drilled 13 times. Some of that, of course, is due to same-handed pitchers being more willing to work inside. The rest of that is because it’s Shane Victorino.
And because it’s Victorino, and because his team is still alive and moving on to the ALCS, we might see an even closer hit-by-pitch yet. You can’t put anything past Shane Victorino. Not even barely-inside pitches.
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