As you probably know, Craig Biggio retired last year after 20 seasons with the Houston Astros, and it’s fairly obvious to say they’re a much different team without his presence. They’ve been hit by just 24 pitches this season, which ties them for 22nd in the majors – but since they’re tied with 5 other teams, that also means they’re tied for 5th from last. The last time they finished so low in the HBP standings was 1991, which was the year Jeff Bagwell showed up as a rookie, and introduced the team to the idea that maybe they shouldn’t dive out of the way of all those pitches that could easily put them on base. Biggio, of course, perfected that lesson and got hit 285 times in all. 1991 was also the last time the Astros finished the season under 40 hbps, which they are in danger of doing again this season. The Astros currently have the longest streak in the majors of seasons with 40 or more HBPs, but it looks like that could end this year if they don’t pick up there pace a little bit. They’re currently on pace to get hit just 39.7 times. This is a long way from the 1997 Astros, which was the only team since before 1900 to get hit by 100 pitches.
The situation is even worse at the positions Biggio used to play – JR Towles is doing a respectable job by being hit 6 times at catcher, but the team has a total of 1 HBP from the 2nd base and center field positions combined. Mark Loretta is the only Astro to get hit by a pitch while playing either position. Kaz Matsui, who has started 63 of the Astros 98 games, has not been plunked at all this year, in 286 plate appearance. He also wasn’t hit at all last year. Or the year before that. He hasn’t been hit since September 11, 2005 when he was the Mets and has managed 758 consecutive plunk-free plate appearances since then. But at least he’s been hit before – Astros center fielder Michael Bourn has never been hit by a pitch, in 500 career plate appearances. Among active position players, only David Murphy and Juan Castro have had more plate appearances in a plunk free career. (Castro is the active master of plunk avoidance, with 2,411 plate appearances and 0 HBPs in his career – the next closest is Curt Schilling with only 901).
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Bourn has been the lead-off batter in the Astros order 63 times this year, and Matsui has led off in 9 more games – as a result, the Astros have 0 hbps from their lead-off batters. Biggio recorded 182 career plunks while batting in the lead-off slot, but this years collection of Astros haven’t had any. The Mets and the Giants are the only other teams who haven’t had there lead-off batter reach base on an HBP.
After so many years of HBPs being the key to the Astros offense, isn’t it time the team did something about this? Obviously they need a proper getting-hit coach to join the staff, though I’m not sure who they could get.
By the way, the Astros are 21 plunks away from getting hit for the 2000th HBP in franchise history. The Astros only reached 1000 plunks 14 years ago, on July 27, 1994. It’s a lot easier to guess who got the 1000th plunk, than who will get the 2000th in Astros history.