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A few thoughts about all the hit batters so far in 2022, and the Cubs and Brewers

There are a lot of HBP in Cubs/Brewers games. Does it mean anything? Here’s a look at the data.

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Willson Contreras is hit by a Jake Cousins pitch in August 2021
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

During the first Cubs/Brewers series this year, seven batters were hit by pitches: Willson Contreras and Omar Narvaez in the first game on Opening Day, then Contreras again, Nick Madrigal and Ian Happ by Brewers pitchers and Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen by Cubs hurlers April 9, and the latter created a bench-clearing incident. The usual milling around was done and no one was hurt, but that also brought out this fun fact:

That’s still true three weeks later as the Cubs and Brewers get ready to face each other again in a three-game series in Milwaukee that begins tomorrow evening.

The Cubs are among the league leaders in being hit by pitches with 11. The Brewers have been hit only seven times total this year; since that Cubs series, just four times in 15 games. Cubs pitchers have hit just one batter since that Brewers series; Brewers pitchers have had five HBP in the meantime.

I decided to take a look at that 27-batter number by looking at all the games involved, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, though, the team leader in being hit by pitches this year is the Mets with 19. In fact, there was a bench-clearing brawl at the Mets/Cardinals game Wednesday afternoon [VIDEO] after Nolan Arenado got thrown what he felt was too far inside.

Mets pitchers, meanwhile, have hit just seven batters, and one Mets pitcher, Chris Bassitt, is tired of the whole thing, per Andy McCullough in The Athletic:

Bassitt offered an explanation for the persistent wildness. He pointed the blame toward the office of commissioner Rob Manfred.

“MLB has a very big problem with the baseballs,” Bassitt told reporters. “They’re bad. Everyone knows it. Every pitcher in the league knows it. They’re bad. They don’t care. MLB doesn’t give a damn about it. They don’t care. We’ve told them our problems with them. They don’t care.”

Bassitt cited an inconsistency with the texture of the baseball as an explanation for the lack of control. The quality of the object shift, he explained, on almost an inning-by-inning basis.

“They’re all different,” Bassitt said. “The first inning, they’re decent. The third inning, they’re bad. The fourth inning, they’re OK. The fifth inning, they’re bad. Then we have different climates. Everything is different. There’s no common ground with the balls. There’s nothing the same, outing to outing. They’re bad.”

Is there a difference in 2022 baseballs that’s making them harder to grip and thus easier to hit batters? Through Tuesday, there had been 218 batters hit by pitches in MLB this year. Through a comparable period of time in 2021, there had been 248 HBP, and in 2019, 236. So... that would seem to indicate the answer is “No.” More on all this from Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic:

The pre-tacked ball would be the obvious, all-encompassing solution, providing pitchers with a consistent, uniform grip and eliminating the need for sticky substances once and for all. At least that would be the idea.

The league experimented with such a ball in select Triple-A games during the final days of the 2021 minor-league season and is using it in the Double-A Texas League this season. Major leaguers did not react well to a version of an enhanced grip ball the league tested in spring training camps in 2019. But to this point, one source said, the Texas League ball has been well-received.

Whether the baseballs are “bad” or not or whether they need to be changed is a question that needs to be answered, but it does not seem to be leading to more hit batters, at least not in a comparable number of games this year over last.

Now let’s have a look at the Cubs and Brewers HBP party. As shown above, the Brewers lead all teams in HBP of a single other team since 2020 with 27... but the Cubs are second:

So is this a vendetta? Or is this just guys trying to pitch inside and missing their spots?

The Cubs and Brewers have played 32 games since the start of the abbreviated 2020 season. There were hit batters in 19 of those games, which seems like... a bit above average. The Brewers won 10 of those games, the Cubs nine.

Here are all 19 games and the HBP in them, listed by batter, pitcher and inning. Boldface indicates the Cubs won the game.

July 24, 2020: Anthony Rizzo by Brandon Woodruff, third inning

July 25, 2020: Javier Báez by Corbin Burnes, first inning; Omar Narvaez by Yu Darvish, fourth inning; Narvaez by Duane Underwood Jr., fifth inning; Willson Contreras by Devin Williams, seventh inning

July 26, 2020: Rizzo by Wily Peralta, third inning; Justin Smoak by Jeremy Jeffress, ninth inning

August 13, 2020: Christian Yelich by Darvish, first inning; Contreras by Brett Anderson, third inning

August 14, 2020: Keston Hiura by Alec Mills, sixth inning; David Bote by Josh Hader, eighth inning

August 16, 2020: Contreras by Josh Lindblom, sixth inning; Ian Happ by Eric Yardley, sixth inning

September 11, 2020: Contreras by Woodruff, second inning; Victor Caratini by Woodruffl, fifth inning

September 13, 2020: Bote by Adrian Houser, fourth inning (NOTE: This is Alec Mills’ no-hitter)

April 5, 2021: Kolten Wong by Trevor Williams, sixth inning; Báez by Eric Yardley, sixth inning; Contreras by Yardley, seventh inning

April 6, 2021: Contreras by Brad Boxberger, ninth inning

April 13, 2021: Jackie Bradley Jr. by Alec Mills, second inning; Contreras by Woodruff, fourth inning; Travis Shaw by Andrew Chafin, eighth inning

April 14, 2021: Hiura by Jake Arrieta, fourth inning; Happ by Lindblom, eighth inning; Joc Pederson by Lindblom, ninth inning

April 23, 2021: Tyrone Taylor by Kyle Hendricks, fourth inning; Jake Marisnick by Luis Perdomo, sixth inning; Bradley by Dillon Maples, ninth inning

June 29, 2021: Patrick Wisdom by Woodruff, second inning; Hiura by Zach Davies, fourth inning; Báez by Jake Cousins, eighth inning

August 10, 2021, first game: Contreras by Peralta, third inning

August 12, 2021: Wong by Hendricks, second inning; Robinson Chirinos by Hunter Strickland, fourth inning

September 18, 2021: Matt Duffy by Corbin Burnes, second inning

April 7, 2022: Narvaez by Hendricks, second inning; Contreras by Cousins, seventh inning

April 9, 2022: Nick Madrigal by Woodruff, second inning; Contreras by Woodruff, fourth inning; Happ by Trevor Gott, seventh inning; Andrew McCutchen by Keegan Thompson, eighth inning; Christian Yelich by Ethan Roberts, ninth inning

I have looked through all this data several times and honestly, I wanted to say something like “The Brewers are headhunters! Gotta stop them!” but the honest truth is, there doesn’t appear to be any pattern at all to these. It might be that some of the Brewers pitchers — particularly Brandon Woodruff, who is responsible for six of the Brewers’ 27 HBP in this time span — might like working inside more than most and sometimes they get a little bit too far inside, especially against Willson Contreras (hit 10 times in this time frame and 15 times overall in his career vs. Milwaukee), who likes to crowd the plate a bit. This article by Britt Ghiroli and Eno Sarris in The Athletic suggests that might be true:

The Athletic

That article is well worth reading and I highly recommend it.

Overall, though, I did a lot of research here and I didn’t want it to go to waste, so here it is. The only thing I can reasonably say about all of it is that the Cubs/Brewers data for the games since 2020 is inconclusive.

But it still wouldn’t hurt for MLB to issue warnings to BOTH teams before this weekend’s series in Milwaukee. This sort of thing isn’t good for the game and really needs to stop.