Thursday, June 9, 2011


Jon Lester
No, we're not referring to the Red Sox' current run to the top of the standings in the AL East...that is not particularly surprising even with their slow start out of the gate in 2011.

We are referring to the fact that the Boston hurlers are on a spree of hitting opposing batters with pitches that has them on a record-setting pace.

John Lackey
Jon Lester and John Lackey have been leading the charge in June. To be fair, neither man was especially prolific in the "plunk" department previously, though both men have had their years in double figures. This year, however, they've already combined for 16 HBPs with just about two-fifths of the season played.

[UPDATE 6/11: Adding Josh Beckett's 3 plunks against the Yankees last night, the Sox have 40 HBP in 62 games, putting them on pace now to plunk 104 hitters in 2011]. This would set--in fact, shatter--a modern record. (The all-time record is 109, but this dubious mark was achieved by baseball's most dubious team, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders.)

Alfredo Aceves
The return of Tim Wakefield to the starting rotation could be what locks the Sox to a new HBP mark. Tim's erratic floater may not hurt much when it lands on a ballplayer's body instead of his bat, but his HBP rate of .52 per nine innings is near the top of the list for starting pitchers.

And the Sox have Alfredo Aceves, who might see more time in the rotation. Aceves' lifetime HBP rate is .60 per nine innings. He's already plunked 5 batters this season in 37 IP.

Hit batsmen don't even out over the course of a few years; they don't appear to be random. Since Terry Francona has taken over as the Red Sox skipper, his squads have hit 612 batters [EDIT: 616 when we count Beckett's "hat trick" last night].

That gives them a lead of just under 50 HBPs over the second place team (the Texas Rangers, with 567).

As the our "HBP heat chart" (below) shows, while the numbers fluctuate from year to year--and the average number of plunks per team has fallen off by nearly 20% from 2003 through 2010--some teams just seem to have a knack for coming inside, while other teams simply put up HBP numbers that are nearly half of what the Red Sox have been "achieving" (case in point: the Atlanta Braves, who've hit only 358 batters over the past 8.4 seasons.

As you might suspect, the Sox pitchers have hit Yankee batters more than anyone else over this time span. A total of 98 Yankee batters have been plunked by Sox pitchers. The Yankees have hit 79 Red Sox hitters over that same time span.

Right now the Tampa Bay Rays hold the modern record for pitcher HBPs, with 95. (That's back in 2003, when they were still the "Devil" Rays.) The Sox are no lock for a new record, but they are clearly off to a "promising" start. It's rare for a post-season team to lead the league in HBPs, but the Sox led the league in 2004 in HBPs. (The Yankees and Phillies each led their respective leagues in 2009, and they met in the World Series.)

Maybe it pays to plunk...