A Hit By Pitch (HBP) is about as ordinary of a baseball stat as you can get. It’s often listed in the box score alongside other classics like the Walk, Batting Average, or my favorite, the Blown Save (mostly because of its abbreviation, BS).
A HBP works exactly how it sounds: if a pitch makes contact with the body (or jersey) of a batter, the batter gets to head to first base. There’s nothing really special about it.
Okay, well, maybe there is something a little special about HBPs: Tech gets them a lot.
In the last five years, Bulldogs have been hit by more pitches than almost anyone else in college baseball:
But Tech hasn’t always had this much HBP success. Prior to 2015, the Bulldogs were regularly in the bottom of the conference (which at the time was the WAC) at getting hit by pitches:
(The red part is the projected total for the rest of the year.
I’m not exactly sure how they’ll get that 1/2 HBP.)
The difference been pre-2015 and post-2015 doesn’t seem all that drastic unless we look at Tech’s National Rank over those years:
Yeah, that’s more like it.
But although Tech became one of the best HBP teams in Division I baseball in 2015, there wasn’t a single Bulldog in the NCAA’s list of 200(ish) players with the most HBPs that year. In fact, only eleven players have ranked that high between 2015 and today:
So this isn’t the result of one player. Tech isn’t just sending Fred Dukes (I understand if you don’t get this reference) out there create a big target. This is a total team effort.
But why did Tech batters start getting hit more? What changed in 2015?
Well, that’s when Greg Goff was wooed from his position as Campbell University’s Head Coach to take the same post at Louisiana Tech.
And if you look back at that first graph, Campbell tops that chart of most team HBPs. That’s not a coincidence. The Campbell Camels’ (yes, that’s their nickname) current skipper is Justin Haire, a former assistant of Goff’s. Haire comes from the same school of thought as Goff: try to maximize your hit by pitches.
But what good does this do? Why does it matter if Tech gets hit by more pitches?
Well, to ask
Jonah Hill Peter Brand Paul DePodesta:
Getting hit by a pitch puts the batter on base.
Yes, not every player that gets on base scores. That’s true whether a player reaches on a hit, walk, or error. But if a player gets on base, it makes it much easier for them to cross home plate.
How much easier?
Well, first we need to see how likely it is that a player who gets on base scores.
This year, Tech has gotten on base 477 times. That’s 51 from HBPs, 110 from walks, and 316 hits¹. Thirty of those hits were home runs, so we won’t count them. We already know how often a player who hits a Home Run scores (it’s roughly 100%, give or take).
So our new total is 447 players who got on base.
Tech has scored 213 runs so far in 2019. Again, 30 came from those pesky HRs that we don’t count. So of the 447 players who reached base, 183 scored.
Again, when a player hits a Home Run, their chance of scoring is 100%. And when a player strikes out (or grounds-out, or flies-out, etc.) their chance of scoring is 0%. I don’t think I need to include charts of those. Tech is an engineering school, after all. But when a player gets on base by anything other than a home-run, they score about 41% of the time.
If we look specifically at HBP victims, Tech only scored on 17 of the 51 free passes, or exactly 1/3 of the time. We’re dealing with a small sample, but there’s a reason why HBP-ers score less often, and it’s not because of the bruises slowing them down.
Not all hits are created equal. Some are singles, but others are doubles and triples. And if you start at second or third base, it’s easier to score.
But back to the big picture. Our next step is to find out how many runs were created by aggressively getting hit by stuff.
Tech has scored 17 runs from getting hit by pitches this year. But if the HBP victims didn’t get hit by a pitch, some of them would still score. Some would strike out, but maybe others would hit Home Runs.
Tech has had 1,229 plate appearances on the year, and they broke down like this:
Only 213 of Tech’s 1,229 plate appearances turned into runs. So that means any time a Bulldog walks up to the plate, they have a 17% chance of scoring a run in that frame.
Statistically speaking, if Tech tried not to get hit by pitches, 17% of those HBP victims would have scored anyway. But by sacrificing their bodies, putting it all on the line, taking one for the team, etc. etc., the batters nearly doubled their scoring odds to 33%. That’s 8 or 9 additional runs that would not have existed otherwise.
Eight or nine runs is not a lot, but it’s also not nothing. Intentionally getting hit by pitches has helped the Bulldogs score more runs. And scoring more runs than the other team is how you win baseball games (I think).
Allowing projectiles travelling 70+ MPH to hit you does have it’s risks. Injuries are not that uncommon when a pitch hits the hands, face, or elbows.
But as Greg Goff and Lane Burroughs have shown, there is a pretty good reason to take that risk: it helps you win games.
¹: Things that aren’t included here: Errors and Fielder’s Choice (FC). That’s because FCs aren’t usually counted in aggregate, and although Errors are, not every error results in a player getting on base. The assumption is that these occur so infrequently, that they don’t mess too much with our data.