Batted ball records have been falling in recent years and even more are on pace to fall in 2019. Lots of words have been devoted to the home run surge and the rapid increase in strike outs. In face, last year Dr. Meredith Wills, who happens to be an astrophysicist in addition to a baseball fan, took apart a bunch of baseballs to definitively prove that the ball was in fact different.
Although I suppose this side-by-side doesn’t leave a lot of room for doubt on that front:
Clear seam difference pic.twitter.com/SqkMQ65Auy— Wheelz Up! (Eric Abneri) (@thefrownyface) April 28, 2019
Well, another batted ball record has been surging lately and while it hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as the home run and strike out surges, batters being hit by a pitch are at an all time high. Devan Fink recently explored this trend and this Fangraphs piece does a great job explaining the surge in hit batsmen:
Clearly there’s been a huge rise in hit-by-pitches in recent decades. In 1994, baseball saw just a total of 876 hit batsmen, the last year (to date) that the league sat under 1,000. Since that time, the total number of batters hit has increased by 43.6 per year, on average, and no end to this growth appears to be in sight.
The visual on this is just staggering. Below you can see the total number of HBP incidents since 1884:
Even when that number is adjusted per plate appearance the trend is clear:
The Fangraphs piece is excellent and I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but it turns out this rash of hit batsmen is of particular interest to the Cubs. Being hit by the baseball to get on base is one category where the 2019 Cubs are crushing the leaderboard:
As many of you know, this isn’t an aberration. Anthony Rizzo is the team leader in ploinks, but he is not alone. The Cubs get ploinked. A lot. (For those of you who don’t follow the game threads, “ploink” is the BCB game thread term for a HBP). In fact, in 2018 they also had three players in the top 10 in ploinks. As an added note, I had to adjust this to get Kris Bryant in the rankings — he didn’t have enough qualified plate appearances for the leaderboard, but he was still tied for fifth in ploinks:
Willson Contreras is a relative newcomer to the HBP leaderboard, but in 2017 the Cubs joined the Pirates as the only teams with two players in the top 10. Bryzzo got ploinked one more time than the substantially less memorable duo of Josh Harrison and David Freese. I’m not even sure what to call them. Frarrison? Harreese? Whatever, neither of them even plays for the Pirates anymore and neither appears on the 2018 or 2019 leader boards, so it looks like 2017 was more of an aberration than a trend:
You should read the rest of Fink’s piece for more on what may be driving the trend of hit batsmen (hint: he speculates it has to do with relievers) but regardless of the causes it looks like the Cubs are more likely than other clubs to get on base via the ploink. As long as they can continue to do that without injury, those are just extra base runners to be driven in by a potent Chicago offense.