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Throwing at Hitters: Stupid or Strategy?

by Tim Muma                                                                        5/31/2012
(Twitter: @brewersblend)                                                       10:30am

Braun is often targeted by opponents -
he's 2nd in the NL in HBP
The art of self-policing on the baseball field is completely lost on the players and managers today. Once used as a way to protect players and send much-needed messages, many of those currently involved can’t seem to figure out when and why a batter should be drilled.

And before moving forward, the most important detail remains:  Never throw at the head, always aiming between the ribs and above the knees.
This has been a topic of discussion for Brewers fans due to the inordinate amount of hit-by-pitches (HBP) Milwaukee batters have endured this season – by far the most in the NL. In fact, the Crew has been hit nearly twice as many times as the next closest team. Yet, Brewers’ pitchers have hit the fewest amount of hitters in the league.

I’m not, by any means, suggesting an eye for an eye in every situation, but the Brewers inability to recognize proper procedure is a microcosm for all of baseball in regards to the appropriate use of the HBP.

Is the act of throwing at a batter as a form of revenge rather juvenile, dumb and pointless? Yeah, it probably is.

However, if you've stood in the box against someone throwing in the upper 80's or above, the intimidation and pain is real and effective. Some argue it's wrong because you shouldn't try to hurt someone. I argue it's the same as a huge hit in football: the intent isn't to hurt the person per se, instead to make him second-guess going over the middle and remember the consequences of his actions.
An example of how things should work comes from my time playing in an amateur league in the Milwaukee area.

During a game in which I was pitching, there was a play at home plate where the opposing player launched himself into our catcher, completely blindsiding him even though he was not in the baseline. It was an incredibly uncalled for act of aggression and momentarily dazed my teammate. After the inning, our catcher walked over to me – and before he even said a word – I told him not to worry about it, I know what I’m doing.

The next time that batter stepped in, I drilled him in the lower back with a fastball. I received a glare and a look of understanding, but nothing was said or done. The next inning was my turn at bat and I braced myself for some retaliation. Sure enough, the first pitch was a heat-seeking missile targeted for my backside – I took it, gave the pitcher a big, bright smile, and trotted down to first base. No theatrics from either side, no threats, no warnings. After I took my beaning, all sides were satisfied and the rest of the game went off without incident.

The next time we played, there were no dirty slides or collisions, no intentionally beanings, and not one argument about what did or didn’t happen.
Real baseball brawls can spice things up,
but too often, batters put on a show and do nothing
If a bunch of amateurs playing for nothing can understand it, why is it so difficult for the Big Leaguers?

It seems, for the most part, players get mad every time they're hit by a pitch. I understand it’s painful and irritating, but actual anger should be saved for an intentional act. Secondly, there appears to be a lot of confusion as to what types of acts should allow for payback.

Here’s a quick guide that players and managers should try to follow…

Acts that warrant a retaliatory hit by pitch:
  • An inappropriate take out slide (spikes up, rolling into a fielder, elbow/forearm to head, etc.)
  • Intentionally colliding with a catcher who is away from the plate or out of the baseline
  • Egregious or consistent acts of showboating, taunting or gestures toward your team (e.g. long slow walks on a home run ball, pointing at players or making other hand signals, stealing bases with a big lead in 8th/9th inning)
  • Players (especially stars or key members) hit multiple times in a series, or an obvious intentional hit-by-pitch attempt

Times that don’t call for a HBP:
  • A player hits a home run or has a great game/series
  • A player or manager talks about fans or
  • A batter is hit with an off-speed pitch (I know it still hurts, but he’s not hitting you with a curve or changeup if he wants to send a message)
  • Just because abatter is new to the league (see Cole Hamels vs. Bryce Harper)

Harper seems like the type of guy
that should get drilled, just don't
admit it

Ideally, the offending person will be the one to be hit. For example, if a pitcher hits a batter intentionally (or was the latest one to hit another batter in the series), he needs to be the one who gets hit. The difficult task is deciding whether or not the free base is worth giving up, especially because the pitcher would most likely make an out. If a batter showboats or is taunting the team, he is the one that gets drilled – not a teammate.
In some cases, these things don’t work out. A pitcher may be pulled from the game or a batter may not get another at-bat. In these cases, it is acceptable to go after a suitable replacement – usually the best or 2nd-best player on the team.

In the end, it's a challenge to pick the right spots to hit a batter. I don't condone putting your team in a position where you are negatively affecting the outcome of the game - that's something players and managers need to weigh when making such a decision. Generally, a team will not be hurt by a HBP in a two-out, nobody on situation, and obviously blow out games are the perfect opportunities for retaliation.
Why can't we be friends?

The problem in Major League Baseball isn't the use of intentional hit-by-pitches, it's the lack of etiquette displayed by those involved. None of this will ever go away, everyone just needs to avoid admitting to hitting someone, throwing at a batter for menial reasons, and making it an act of machismo instead of a well-placed message or defense.


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