Plunks by difficulty
It's easy to find out what batter has been hit by the most pitches in a given season, by just counting the bruises, but how can we figure out who is truly skilled at the art of the HBP and who is just getting a lot of plate appearances against the criminally insane? Okay, there probably aren't more than a few pitchers who are actually criminally insane, but the truth is that it's much easier to get hit by Johnny Cueto or Joba Chamberlain this season, than by James Shields or Clayton Kershaw. So, what happens if we weight each plunk by level of difficulty?
To establish a level of difficulty for each plunk, we can just look at the season rate of batters face per plunk thrown for each pitcher. So, when Kevin Youkilis got plunked by Rick Porcello this year, that plunk was worth 323 difficulty points, because Porcello has only hit one out of every 323 batters he's faced this year. But when Youk go hit by Brandon League, that only counts for 49 points because league has hit 6 out of the 294 batters he's faced, or one out of every 49. Then once we assign difficulty scores to each plunk we can see that Youkilis has a season difficulty total of 1850 - which is third best in the league.
Obviously these number are subject to change, because each pitcher's plunk rate will change every time they pitch, and we're basing the difficulty scores on the pitcher's plunk rate for the whole season. But, here are the leaders in 2009 plunks by total difficulty score:
|Chase Utley (PHI)||2,605||22|
|Jason Kendall (MIL)||2,025||14|
|Kevin Youkilis (BOS)||1,850||14|
|Shin-Soo Choo (CLE)||1,734||15|
|Carlos Quentin (CWS)||1,669||12|
|Brandon Inge (DET)||1,620||17|
|Andre Ethier (LAD)||1,608||13|
|Ryan Braun (MIL)||1,597||12|
|Kelly Shoppach (CLE)||1,540||18|
|David Eckstein (SD)||1,312||9|
As you can see, Utley still tops the league, and pulled off some notably difficult feats of plunkery like being hit twice by Chris Volstad, who has only hit one other batter among his 663 batters faced. He's still helped the most by shear volume of plunkings though, and his average difficulty per plunk was just 118.4 - 9th best among batters with 10 or more plunks.
Kelly Shoppach is 2nd in the majors in total HBPs, but when we rank them by difficulty he drops down to 9th, due to the number of high volume plunkers he's been hit by. The pitchers who hit Shoppach have hit, on average, one out of every 85.5 batters they've faced this year, and he's been hit by 4 different pitchers who hit at least one batter for every 50 they've faced - Dave Bush (34.6 BF per HBP), Luis Ayala (45), Jamey Wright (47.1) and Johnny Cueto (48.6). Shoppach's been hit by a lot of pitchers who have hit a lot of batters.
Among batters who have been hit at least 10 times this season, Jason Kendall has the highest average difficulty per plunk, at 144.6. He was helped greatly by receiving Aaron Cook's only plunk of the season, amon 627 batters faced. Clint Barmes had the lowest difficulty score among batters with 10 plunks, at just 65.4. Seven of the ten pitchers who plunked Barmes this year have plunked batters at a rate better than one plunk every 50 batters. So, don't go picking up Barmes for your HBP fantasy league next year, just because he had a career high this season.
Also of note, as of today, Shin-Soo Choo has been hit by 5 different pitchers who have only thrown 1 plunk this year. If none of those pitchers hits another batter (Damaso Marte, Fu-Te Ni, John Bale, Juan Cruz, and Marc Rzepczynski), Choo will be the first batter to get hit by 5 different one-plunk-wonders since 2000 when Fernando Vina did it. Nobody in the Jamie Moyer era has been hit by 6 pitchers who only threw one plunk in the season. The only others to do that 5 times in a season are Craig Biggio in 1998, FP Santangelo in 1997, Dave Hollins in 1992 and Don Baylor in 1986.
If Utley were to finish the season with his current HBP Difficulty score, it would rank 23rd among season scores in the Jamie Moyer era (since 1986). Don Baylor's '86 season is the highest, with a 6,314 score on 35 plunks. Baylor has the 2nd best season too, with a 4,479 in 1987 on 28 HBPs, but Jason Kendall's 31 plunk season in 1998 takes third place with a score of 4,284. Chase Utley's best season was last year, when he got a 2,707, but he could easily beat that if he just gets one more plunk from someone who hasn't hit many people.