In the movie Moneyball, baseball analyst Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, has a creed about the type of player his team craves. When his boss pointed to him, Bland said, “He’s on base.”
The movie, like the Michael Lewis book on which it is based, is about the rise of sabermetrics in Major League Baseball. This is the story of a group of outsiders who challenge baseball’s establishment, following a belief rooted in a phrase often heard in Little League games: “A walk is as good as a hit.”
But what if it doesn’t go far enough? It is natural to think that there are It’s a hit, but it mixes in a bit of danger and makes it lively.
Strategy calculations are very easy to explain. But selling the idea to players who risk their health and lives every time they step in front of a 96-mph fastball can be tough. Just ask Mets first baseman Pete Alonso. He leads the majors in home runs, but was placed on the disabled list on Friday due to a bone contusion he sustained while removing a heater on his left wrist from Charlie Morton during last week’s game.
It was no surprise that Alonso was hit by a pitch. He and a handful of other brave players (some might say idiots) are known for making little effort to dodge the pitch when it comes their way. It’s a strategy they’ve honed over the years as a useful and painful tool in their arsenal. And it’s even harder than it looks on TV.
“Let’s just stand there and have someone use the machine and see how you react,” said the Yankees first baseman, who had 207 planks in his career, the most among active MLB players. said Anthony Rizzo.
Almost everyone has an instinct to get out of the way. But there are also some outliers that hit too often to be explained by bad luck. Rizzo and the others say they won’t climb to get hit—I swear—but they also admit they won’t jump out of the way.
Consider Mark Kanha. The Mets outfielder has had an MLB-leading 55 hits over the last two seasons and has 112 hits in his nine-year career.
Kanya said: “Last year, I sometimes joked, ‘Hit a pitch keeps the lights on in the Cañas.’ That’s what I’m building my career on.” It’s a weapon for you. you are producing orchids. “
As of Wednesday, Caña had hit in 3.47 percent of his career at-bats, more than triple his career MLB average. His .348 all-time base average would drop to .324 if he had been batted at league-average batting average.
For Lizzo, his .366 lifetime on-base percentage would drop to .345 if he hit average. The gap is so great that he’ll drop from 11th in the majors (among players with a 5,000-plus batting average) since 2011. The number of at-bats) tied for 24th place.
So how do they do it? For Lizzo, it starts with how he sets up at bat.
A left-handed power hitter with a quick stroke, Lizzo excels on downs and inside pitches. Knowing he can handle any ball thrown there, he keeps his at-bats close together to make it easier to reach the outside pitch. But his goal is to hit the ball. A hit-by-pitch is simply an acceptable fallback position.
“If you’re going to get hit by a pitch, the fastball should come right down the middle,” Rizzo said. “I think it’s just the approach and how they’re going to throw me and my position.”
In Kanya’s case, it’s more about how he throws. Right-handed starters often attack right-handed Kanya with an inside-angle fastball, but he struggles with this type of pitch. In some cases, the pitch may stray too far inward.
There’s nothing new about this approach, but players like Caña, Rizzo and Alonso are set apart by the way they react when they perceive the pitch heading their way. I am drawing.
“I have to overcome a mental block,” said Alonso, who has been hit by pitches 56 times in the last five seasons, before pitching last week.
Alonso referred to a mental block known as the “startle reflex,” which he and Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader have struggled to overcome since they were teammates at the University of Florida.
In fact, Gators players were hurled with bubble balls from a pitching machine to train their brains to stay out of the way. Alonso said during the game that if he dodged a fly ball that his coach believed was going to hit them, he would have to run more in the next practice.
Once a player has learned how to suppress the startle reflex, the next step is to anticipate where the ball will land. If you can track the trajectory of the ball, you can distort yourself in a way that protects more sensitive areas such as your wrists, and you can expect something like what happened to Alonso, which is three to four weeks of damage to him. accidents can be avoided.
The master of hitting without injury is former All-Star catcher Jason Kendall, who has 254 hits in 15 seasons and is fifth all-time.
“The more you get hit, the more you learn how to do it and how to defend yourself,” Kendall said. “When there’s something behind me, it might hit my ribs, so I move my left elbow down to keep it away. If it’s in my face, I move forward. I think you’ll get used to changing
“I mean, it still hurts, don’t get me wrong,” added Kendall. “But I’d rather just heal the bruises on my biceps, elbows, forearms, etc. than break my ribs and be out for at least four to six weeks.”
Of course, in all of this, it should be noted that the batter is not allowed to simply let the pitch hit. By convention, they must try to stay out of the way.
But this rule dates back to 1887 and has been flawed from the beginning. Umpires have primarily punished hitters for pitches that clearly lean toward them, rather than chasing players who refuse to move from an out-of-the-way position.
That was the genius behind the decisions Houston Astros all-glove no-bat catcher Martin Maldonado made in Game 6 of the 2022 World Series. Maldonado, who led the sixth inning when his team was trailing by a single point, normally stands in the center of the right-handed batter’s box, but tapped his toe on the chalk next to his at-bat. His only intention was to get hit by a pitch, and that’s exactly what happened.
The Philadelphia Phillies, facing elimination, disputed the decision, arguing that Maldonado made no effort to get in the way. However, after reviewing the replay, it was found that Maldonado was so close to the plate that he didn’t have to move until the pitch hit his elbow, and replay staff found Maldonado wasn’t trying to dodge the ball. could not be proved conclusively. Three batters later, Yordan Alvarez hit a three-run homer that put Houston ahead for good and sealed the Astros’ second World Series championship.
Maldonado got away with gamesmanship, while Rizzo, Caña and Alonso accepted the dropped ball as a wholly unintended reality of their approach at bat, while Mets outfielder Tim Locastro was hit by a pitch and came from behind. surpassed them all in doing. into an art form.
Despite injuries and limited part-time roles, Locastro has 40 hits in 559 career at-bats. Among players with at least 10 hits, Locastro leads all players, which has happened in 7.16 percent of his career at-bats.
Locastro said he had been hit by pitches all his competitive baseball career, but was unable to articulate why. He didn’t stand particularly close to the plate, and he never entered the box with the intention of being hit, he said. He’s certainly not the type of player that pitchers hit on purpose.
“Once you see the ball inside, you can’t get out of it,” said Locastro, who is on the 60-day disabled list recovering from thumb surgery. “Especially for me personally and my skill set of running, stealing and scoring. It fits my skill set in the game of baseball.”
Locastro’s greatest weapon is his speed, and although he has a solid .325 career base percentage, if he were hit at the league average, he would be out of action at .264.
When asked, he said bluntly.
“It’s a skill,” Locastro said. “The answer to that question is there.”
In the words of the fictional Peter Bland, “He goes to base.”