The Braves have a demographic problem. There are too many of them that are just too old or too young to get hit by a lot of pitches, and that’s why they only had 42 plunks in 2008 (5th from the bottom in HBP per plate appearance), and why they might not be much better in 2009 (at getting hit by pitches).
From 1986 to 2008, 38% of all HBPs have been recorded by players in a narrow band of ages from 26 to 29. 19.9% of HBPs in that span landed on players past their 27th birthday but before their 29th. The record breaking 2008 Indians, for example, got 52 out of their 103 plunks out of guys aged 26, 27 and 28. But the 2008 Braves only had 4 guys in that age range at any point last season – Mark Teixeira turned 28 last April but got traded in July, Omar Infante was 26 for the whole season, as was Kelly Johnson, and Josh Anderson turned 26 in August. So the Braves batters in the core age group for HBP production produced a total of 7 plunks for the team in 2008.
For 2009, they have a few more players moving into that prime age range. Josh Anderson is 26, and turns 27 (the most popular age for getting plunked) in August. Maybe he can beat his career season high of two HBPs now, but the people over at the Talking Chop blog seem to think he’ll be playing a backup role to the younger Jordan Schafer (Schafer turns 23 in September and got hit once in winter ball this year). Kelly Johnson is 27 for the whole season, and he should be able to beat his career high of 4 plunks. Omar Infante will also be 27 for the whole season, but he’s never been plunked more than 3 times in a year. The 26 year olds are a little better with Yunel Escobar‘s 5 HBPs last year, and Casey Kotchman showing potential with 9 HBPs in 2008. If Kotchman continues to improve into his prime HBP years, he could do well. The same goes for Jeff Francouer, who is still just 25 but got hit 10 times last year at age 24.
The question remains, though, if the younger players will form a core who embrace the HBP, or if they’ll follow the team’s veteran leaders, who are among the best at not getting hit by pitches. Chipper Jones is not going to inspire anyone to get hit by a pitch. He’s been hit just 16 times in 8,677 plate appearance. Only 12 players in major league history have had over 8,000 plate appearances and been plunked less than Chipper Jones, and only one of them is still in the league – Garrett Anderson. It’s as if the Braves saw a specific need for another guy who will turn 37 this season and has less than 20 career HBPs. Because Greg Norton and Chipper Jones weren’t enough to fill that role. Garrett Anderson has only been hit 6 times in 8,480 plate appearance. There is nobody in major league history with over 8,000 plate appearances who got hit fewer times than Garrett Anderson.
On the pitching side, the Braves threw 42 plunks last season, exactly matching the number of HBPs on the batting side. That number should increase this year just because of the addition of Javier Vazquez. Vazquez, Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are all capable of double digit hit-batters in a season, even though none of them has done that recently. And, if Jeff Bennett doesn’t get gut, he’s a guy who can come in and hit batters out of the bullpen.
UPDATE: The Braves traded Josh Anderson to Detroit on March 30th, so that’s one less player in the most popular “target demographic”.