Me too… except it doesn’t actually happen.
“He’s leaning over the plate!” – well he might be leaning close to the plate, but according to pitch f/X, it’s pretty unlikely that a batter was leaning far enough over the plate to actually get plunked directly above the plate.
There have been 967 HBPs so far this year, and MLB.com’s pitch f/X system recorded the height and distance from the center of home plate for 960 of them (along with the other cool stuff like velocity and measures of spin and break). Of those 960 pitches only 2 of them were recorded as crossing the front of home plate within 8.5 inches of the center. Home plate is 17 inches wide, so the distance from the center to the edge of the strikezone is 8.5 inches. Of the two HBPs that were recorded by pitch f/X within that range, one was a Jimmy Rollins plunk on May 20 that pitch f/X says crossed the plate 7 inches inside from the center of the plate, and 0.24 inches above the ground. So either Jimmy had his foot on the front of the plate without the umpire noticing, or the pitch f/X system got that one wrong, or perhaps he was standing really close to the front of the batters box and the ball bounced off him and out over the plate. That last one doesn’t look likely because pitch f/X has the speed of the pitch as it crosses the plate, and that pitch looks like any other curve ball of the same start speed from that pitcher (Dave Bush). So I think pitch f/X just got that one wrong, which does happen. The other incident of a pitch hitting a batter over home plate was a plunk by Brett Gardner on May 31st. Gardner is a lefty and the pitch is record as 7.8 inches from the center of the plate on Gardner’s side, and 3.6 feet above the ground – so that’s above the belt painting the inside corner. It might be possible that Gardner had his elbow out there, but it’s more likely that since the pitch came from a right handed pitcher it crossed the front corner of the plate at an angle toward the left handed batter and hit him on the left arm without that arm actually being above the plate.
In last year’s data, there are no instances of an HBP that pitch f/X says was over the plate, but there were a lot more HBPs that pitch f/X missed or didn’t record data for.
If we expand the search to the 6 inch gap between the edge of the plate and the batters box, there have been 32 HBPs this year within that region, and about 65 last season.
So keep that in mind next time someone complains about an HBP and says the batter stuck his elbow into the strike zone. That batter may have been close to the plate, and he might not have tried to get out of the way, but chances are that the ball did not hit him directly above home plate. So now when someone complains, you tell him that some guy on the internet says that it doesn’t happen, and backed it up with data that’s too hard for any sane person to assemble to recreate his results – because that kind of argument always goes down will with someone who’s very sure he’s seen it happen all the time with his own two eyes.