Popular wisdom in baseball holds that sluggers like Albert Pujols and Adrian Gonzalez draw a lot of walks because pitchers are wary about throwing them strikes. Hitters like Miguel Tejada and Jose Guillen draw almost no walks because pitchers are less afraid of them, and because they swing at everything. Meanwhile, certain batters get hit for crowding the plate, or for being A.J. Pierzynski.
I noticed that so far this year, Marlon Byrd is running a 9:10 hit by pitch-to-walk ratio, and Pierzynski is at 5:6. So I looked at the last 5 years in baseball to see which batters pitchers seemed least afraid of, but most likely to plunk with a pitch.
[Note: When the hit by pitches occurred in a surprisingly few number of plate appearances, I noted it. I only looked at players with 100+ PA and may have missed somebody; I didn’t look past the top 50 batters in HBP in any season]
Quite a few catchers make this list. Yes, catchers tend to be slow at the plate, but they are also best positioned to orchestrate a retaliation for a plunking.
Since 2005, only Ryan Doumit has achieved the honor of reaching base by getting plunked more times than by drawing a walk. Aaron Rowand went 18:18 in 2006, and is a very solid 113:242 (HBP:BB) for his career. Pierzynski for his career to date has been hit 91 times and walked 198 times. Kenji Johjima, another catcher nobody was afraid to pitch to, finished his illustrious MLB career with a 37:66 ratio in 1,722 PA. If you included the number of times his own pitchers wanted to hit him with a pitch, Johjima would have finished above 1:1. Chase Utley, our three-time season defending HBP champ, gets too many of the four-ball variety of free passes.
Out of curiosity, I looked at Vlad Guerrero’s history. One would guess that he would be hit less often, on account of his ability to hit virtually any pitch, anywhere, at any speed, really hard. He’s middle of the road, with 90 career HBP for an average of 6.5 in each of his full season.
So who, then, are the recent hitters who are hard to hit? Which batters, due to standing way off the plate, being weak against the outside corner, or perhaps possessing batter’s box elusiveness, have a ton of PA but no HBP?
The winner of Most Elusive Batter is Garret Anderson pulling away. In a career of 13+ seasons averaging well over 600 plate appearances a year, Anderson was hit by a pitch on average once every two years. Anderson went welt-less from 1999 to 2003, during which he stepped to the plate 3,396 times. During that streak, Steve Bartman was hit with more baseballs than Garret Anderson.
Why was Garret Anderson so hard to plunk? Perhaps it was because he stood well off the plate and never walked anyhow. But another answer may come from the first result returned when you Google image-search “garret anderson hit by pitch”: