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Batting armor

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A recent CNN/SI article highlighted the growing number of batters getting hit by pitches. It's gone up in every decade since the 1980s, with the 2000s being by far the highest, with a HBP in 36% of all games (18% in the '80s, 28% in the '90s). One would've thought the 1960s would be the highest, being the 'Decade of the Pitcher' and all; but in the '60s, pitchers threw from a higher mound to a larger strike zone, against more tentative (and worse because there was no DH) hitters.

Here's the full list:

1950s: 19.4%
1960s: 21.8%
1970s: 19.4%
1980s: 17.9%
1990s: 27.6%
2000s: 36.0%

HBP doubled from the '80s to now. Why has that happened? It's probably a combination of factors:

  • Watered down pitching means we're seeing pitchers with worse control.
  • Because of the metamorphosis of the K-zone (from narrow and tall to wide and short), pitchers are inclined to throw more pitches off the edges of the plate rather than to the top and bottom. Hence hitters feel they have to reach the outside corner and therefore 'crowd the plate.'
  • The importance of OBP was not fully realized until relatively recently. Batters are more willing to get hit by a pitch.
  • Pitchers are throwing inside more to counteract the impressive opposite-field power that was not so prevalent in past eras.
  • Greater medical treatment allows hitters to come back quicker and healthier from HBP than in the past.
  • The reluctance of umpires to say a batter has not made an effort to avoid a HBP.
  • And perhaps most importantly of all, the influx of batting armor that makes hitters more comfortable and willing to get hit.

I for one oppose the use of batting armor in today's game. How often do we need to see David Ortiz (and the like) hanging directly over the plate with impunity because of that massive elbow pad? If the pitch is inside, they get hit and walk to first. If the pitch is anywhere else, they have their way with it. The entire second half of Barry Bonds' career was based on that approach (with the help of PEDs of course... noticing a trend?.

If batters were disallowed from wearing any kind of armor (excluding helmets and foot/shin guards: helmets protect the batter's life, while shin guards don't significantly affect a batter's approach), I believe we'd see both offense and the amount of HBP decrease, which would provide a better game. Without that armor, batters would feel less comfortable at the plate, knowing their bare arm was exposed.

When did the trend start? The first guy I can definitely remember using the elbow pad is Mo Vaughn about 15 years ago.


What's your take?