A little while back we published a very unscientific poll of our Sports Panel about the most obnoxious players currently in baseball. While that article was an interesting exercise in and of itself, the real goal was to set up this analysis: Do obnoxious players get beaned more than other players?
To understand why we think there might be a correlation between obnoxious behavior and getting beaned, you have to understand baseball’s unofficial social justice system. Beanballs (officially known as “hit by the pitch”) go way back as a means for a pitcher, or a team acting through their pitcher, to express their discontent with an opponent. You can find dozens of cases like this, or this, or this.
We know baseball has unwritten rules, but beaning players to send a message is also an unspoken rule. By which we mean that managers and pitchers never own up to their true intent of plunking an opponent purposefully. Nor should they. It would lead to faster ejections or even suspensions if it were publicly stated to be malicious. Batters and opposing managers gripe about it and claim, often correctly, that these events are intentional. But there is not much they can do about it. And so this little dance goes on.
To bring this back to our obnoxious players, we wanted to see if the guys with “reputations” got beaned more often than everyone else. It seems like a reasonable hypothesis right? If you’re a pitcher and you’re going to plunk somebody, it’s not going to be the universally beloved veteran. It’s probably going to be the punky young star, or the guy who admired his homer the last time you played him, or the guy who got in a fight with one of your teammates. These are all characteristics of the guys on our obnoxious players list. To conduct this little analysis, we grabbed batting stats from 2015 and used them to create a new, standardized, metric we call “Plunkings Per 100 Plate Appearances” or PP100. We hope the sabermetrics community will adopt the concept enthusiastically. There is a shortage of good beanball analysis. We then compared the average PP100 between the players labeled as obnoxious and those that weren’t.
The list of obnoxious players was created by our Sports Panel here at The Renaissance Fan and was supplemented by the internet (through a thread on Quora about obnoxious players and a Facebook group of baseball enthusiasts commenting on Part 1 of this story). This is not a highly scientific way to generate this list, but when you are talking about something like obnoxiousness that can’t be measured, you have to get a little creative and do some crowd-sourcing. Who made the final list of obnoxious players?
Survey says… Carlos Gomez, Pablo Sandoval, Nick Swisher, A-Rod, Hanley Ramirez, Bryce Harper, Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, Ryan Braun, Yasiel Puig, Melky Cabrera, Davd Ortiz, Hunter Pence, and Yadier Molina.
Let’s take a minute to stop and reflect again on what our hypothesis is. Here’s Bryce Harper, rated the most obnoxious player in our little poll (by a pretty wide margin, and recently saying more stuff that could be considered obnoxious). If you are a pitcher and want to send a message to the Washington Nationals, is this your guy?
Now let’s dig into the results. Do obnoxious players get beaned more? Somewhat disappointingly, the data show no evidence that the players identified as being obnoxious get beaned more than other players. In fact, the average was slightly lower for the obnoxious group. Some of obnoxious players didn’t get hit at all in 2015. Yadier Molina, David Ortiz, and Hunter Pence had a combined 1,377 plate appearances with no plunkings.
This means one or more of the following is true:
- Getting hit by a pitch is influenced a lot more by other factors. Intentional beanings are still far less common than unintentional ones. Looking at the players in the top 20 for PP100 values in 2015 we see some commonalities. Lots of leadoff/top of the order guys and a good number of lefties. Both of these make a lot of sense. The goal for a leadoff batter is to get on base at all costs. Might that mean taking one for the team that you could have otherwise dodged? Lefties have a natural tendency to get beaned more because of the way pitches from right-handed pitchers break toward them, and right-handed pitchers are more common.
- These guys aren’t as obnoxious as we think, at least to MLB pitchers. One issue that was impossible to get around is that we are not MLB pitchers and therefore we don’t really know what they think of the players on our list. This is a fan’s list of obnoxious players (and just a small group of fans at that). We had to make an assumption that the pitchers and other players would feel the same way about the guys on this list, but maybe that assumption is flawed. Maybe pitchers have their own criteria for who to plunk. Maybe Anthony Rizzo got drilled an astonishing 30 times in 2015 (that’s once out of every 24 times he stepped to the plate and the 16th highest single season total of all-time) because he has a habit of taking long glances into the player’s wives and girlfriends section?
- This is a small sample. It is. It’s just one season. If you carried this exercise out over many seasons and looked at some of the most obnoxious players in baseball history you might find something. Interesting fact: Hughie Jennings holds the single season record for most times plunked with 51 in 1896. He also got drilled 46 times in both 1897 and 1898. Today’s fans likely don’t know much about Jennings, but he was at one point in his career suspended for taunting opponents with a tin whistle. So who knows, maybe that kind of thing played a role in all those beanballs.
We should conclude with a note that while we make light of beanballs and the general silliness of beaning a player to send a message in this article, there are several examples of players getting hit that are very serious and have altered careers and even ended lives. The aforementioned Hughie Jennings was knocked unconscious for three days after one of the times he was hit. He lived the rest of his life with often debilitating symptoms that today would have been easily diagnosed as “post-concussion”. Then there’s Kirby Puckett, about whom we have very complicated feelings, who was maybe the biggest star to be a serious victim of being hit. Taking a pitch to the face contributed to his shortened career.
Accidents are just that, accidents. Baseball is a dangerous game. But if you’re an MLB pitcher and you want to participate in the practice of “sending a message”, whether it’s an obnoxious player or not: hit ’em in the butt. It’s embarrassing for the batter, you can make your statement, and nothing gets hurt except pride.