You like factoids, so go ahead and choose your factoid. Shin-Soo Choo has already been hit by nine pitches. Shin-Soo Choo’s hit-by-pitch total is more than twice as high as that of the current runner-up. Shin-Soo Choo has accounted for 5.2% of the league’s hit-by-pitches while accounting for 0.4% of the league’s plate appearances. No non-Reds team in baseball has been hit by more pitches than Shin-Soo Choo this season. Shin-Soo Choo has reached base more often by hit-by-pitches than Jason Heyward has reached base by hits. Shin-Soo Choo already has the second-worst UZR in baseball, ahead only of a guy with the yips. Whoops, I don’t know how that got in there. The point is this: Shin-Soo Choo has been hit a lot, already. There is a variety of ways in which this point can be illustrated.
It’s not a total negative, or even that much of a partial negative, because Choo is leading off for the Reds and leadoff hitters are supposed to get on base. When you get hit by a pitch, you are entitled to a base! Through three weeks or so, Choo has made fewer outs than non-outs, and this is a guy in the Reds lineup who isn’t Joey Votto. As long as Choo can get hit and not get hurt, it’ll be an overall positive, and Choo hasn’t gotten hurt to date.
But Choo doesn’t want to be getting hit by all these pitches. He got hit by two more on Sunday, and he’s not Carlos Quentin, seemingly getting in the way of pitches on purpose. Over time, given enough of these, there’s going to be an injury, and it could be a bad one. Choo is growing frustrated, by the hit-by-pitches and by the questions that follow, and let’s look at some snippets:
It’s part of the game, OK? This is what he says, more than a few times, until he becomes irritated at the different ways writers are asking the same question. There is no art form to being hit by a pitch, even as Choo himself has been hit more times than every team in baseball, save the New York Yankees.
His family is worried about it, he says. His manager is concerned enough to advise Choo to back off the plate a bit. “Sooner or later, he’s going to get hit in the hand or something,’’ Baker said.
Choo is worried only a little. “I worry about a sensitive area,’’ he said. “Head or bone.’’
Since Choo debuted in the majors, he’s been hit in 2.1% of his plate appearances. This is about the same rate as Josh Wilson and Damion Easley — it’s a high rate, but not extremely so. Quentin’s twice that high. Other guys are a full percentage point ahead. But Choo’s rate isn’t that far south of Craig Biggio‘s rate, and this was a big part of Biggio’s game. Choo has proven himself decidedly above-average in the hittability department, hence this quick investigation.
Here are the pitchers who have hit Choo so far in 2013:
- Jered Weaver
- Scott Downs
- Dan Haren
- Ross Detwiler
- Jake Westbrook
- Jeff Locke
- Jeanmar Gomez
- Alex Sanabia
- Alex Sanabia again
And here is a pitch-location map, separating hit-by-pitches from non-hit-by-pitches:
Choo’s left-handed, and, yeah, we see him getting hit over there, by inside pitches. That’s how this happens. Some of those pitches were probably just about unavoidable. Interestingly, there have been some inside pitches that missed. Here are inside pitches that didn’t hit Shin-Soo Choo and grant him a free* base:
This could’ve been Choo’s third hit-by-pitch on Sunday!
What’s fascinating about this last one is that later in the same plate appearance, Choo would be hit by a pitch. The pitch that hit him would be six inches less inside. In the next plate appearance between Choo and Locke, Locke would throw another way-inside pitch that didn’t make contact. Choo was getting pitched in; one of the pitches hit him.
Most people don’t want to get hit by pitches. Getting hit by a pitched baseball hurts, and you can’t help but flinch even if you’re completely protected and facing the ball head-on. Consider the catcher and the umpire from this slow-motion replay screenshot:
Eyes closed, because baseballs hurt. Catchers catch with their eyes closed. Umpires umpire with their eyes closed. It’s just a blink — it’s not enough to miss much critical information — but it’s telling. It’s hard to will yourself to get hurt, even if you manage to psych yourself up. Next time you’re in bed, get up on your knees. Fall forward, face-first. Odds are you’ll throw your arms in front of you instinctively, even though you’re falling into sheets and pillows. Players, generally speaking, want to stay out of the way of baseballs, and while that isn’t true all of the time, it’s true much of the time.
What’s going on with Choo? Choo is right not to take his manager’s advice and back off — as Choo says in the article linked above, that could have a cascading effect on offensive success. Where a hitter stands is a part of his batting mechanics, and if you change a little thing about mechanics, you could change a lot of things about performance. If Choo backed off, his concept of the strike zone would be different, and maybe he wouldn’t have his approach anymore. Maybe he’d be exploitable. Choo is quite good where he is, and this flurry of hit-by-pitches should have to pass at some point. You don’t want to overreact to a probable fluke.
But it’s probably not completely a fluke. As noted, Choo is an above-average hit-by-pitch-getter. According to the article, Choo asked teammates, and they confirmed that he doesn’t entirely crowd the plate. But he gets up there, and consider these example screenshots from a game between the Reds and the Pirates, selected on account of the totally bitchin camera angle:
That’s Choo. The yellow line sort of approximates the inner line of the batter’s box. Where the yellow line is, exactly, isn’t important; this is just to establish a reference. Now consider:
This is a very simple concept. Shin-Soo Choo’s body takes up a greater-than-average amount of space closer to the plate in the left-handed batter’s box. The closer to the plate you get, the higher the frequency of pitches. Even though Choo makes a legitimate effort to get out of the way, he has to get out of the way more often than most left-handed batters, and so he won’t get out of the way more often than most left-handed batters. The closer you wander to a target in a shooting range, the more likely you are to end up in a hospital.
Crowding the plate can be a subjective matter, because it can imply that a batter wants to get hit. Choo, from what we can tell, doesn’t. But he does objectively crowd the plate more than most, hence his hit-by-pitch rate. As for his hit-by-pitch total in 2013? He hasn’t changed his approach, so the expectation is that he’ll end up back to normal from here on out. Choo isn’t doing anything to make himself more hittable, so he’s not going to sustain a record-breaking pace. This is early-season noise, like Justin Upton‘s nine dingers in 18 games. It’s one part signal and one part noise, or something along those lines. Look at the other side of the coin. Doug Fister leads the major leagues in hit-by-pitches for pitchers, with six. He has issued five unintentional walks. He hit seven batters a year ago. Pitches get away sometimes. Over a big enough sample, we can predict how many pitches will have gotten away. Over a smaller sample, baseball happens.
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