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Will the Astros set the major-league HBP record in 2020?

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The question’s worth looking into. Here are some of the historical numbers.

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It’s been said by some that since the Houston Astros players were not punished for their sign-stealing scheme, that some of their opponents might take things into their own hands and throw baseballs in the general direction of Astros players’ bodies, on occasion.

Before I continue, I think I need to say this. I am 100 percent against this sort of “frontier justice,” or “policing the game,” or whatever you want to call it. Throwing baseballs intentionally at someone is never the right thing to do, even if it’s not aimed at someone’s head, which can be extremely dangerous. I would rather teams didn’t operate this way.

Having said that, I call your attention to this tweet sent out a couple of days ago:

Never mind the fact that betonline.ag is what it says, an online betting platform, and not in Las Vegas.

Where does 80 HBP by a team in a season (about one for every two games) rate in baseball history, and what were team numbers last year?

61 teams in major-league history (since 1908, what I like to call the “baseball-reference.com era”) have had 80 or more HBP in a season. It should be noted that 16 of those 61 80-HBP seasons have come within the last two years. Are pitchers wilder than they used to be? Do hitters try to “lean in” more because so many of them wear so much body armor? Those are questions beyond the scope of this article, but I found that interesting.

The major-league (and thus, American League) record for HBP in a season is 103, set by the 2008 Cleveland Indians. Those 103 were spread out fairly well. The leader was Ryan Garko with 15; three others (Kelly Shoppach, Asdrubal Cabrera and David Dellucci) had 11.

The National League record is 100. It’s held, oddly enough, by the Astros, who set it in 1997. The Astros of those years had one of the top HBP men of all time, Craig Biggio, who had 34 that year.

In 2019, the Marlins led the major leagues in HBP with 90. The MLB average for teams was 66. Interestingly enough, the Astros were dead last in MLB in 2019 with just 41 HBP. 13 of those were by Robinson Chirinos. No other Astro had more than nine (Alex Bregman). My suspicion is that the Astros will get hit a lot more than 41 times in 2020.

Since you’re probably wondering, the Cubs’ team record for HBP in a season is 96, set in 2016. Kris Bryant was hit 18 times that year and Anthony Rizzo 16, which was the fewest for Rizzo from 2015-19. Every other year in that span, Rizzo was hit at least 20 times. Rizzo’s 141 career HBP as a Cub are the franchise record, and he ranks tied for 24th all-time with 145. The career record is held by 19th Century star Hughie Jennings, who was plunked 287 times. Biggio came within two of that with 285.

Having gone through the numbers, I do think it’s possible that the 2020 Astros will break the record of 103. Again, I’m not advocating for this and I hope it doesn’t turn into headhunting by pretty much every Houston opponent.

But it’s something to watch for during the 2020 season. If I were betting on this (I’m not), I’d probably take the over.