Saturday’s loss to the Rays was an event in more ways than one. Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez were both hit, in the same inning no less, by Yonny Chirinos. The previous game, Gleyber Torres was hit by Casey Sadler, and it bruised the young shortstop enough that he sat out Sunday’s finale in Tampa.
I’ll admit that I have been paying more attention to Yankee hit-by-pitches after what happened to Aaron Judge last year, and it sure has felt like the Yankees have been nailed more than previous seasons. Sure enough, they entered play Monday night tied with Minnesota for the most hit batters with 19. Moreover, the rate per game that players are being hit is on the rise:
Over the last decade, the Yankees have averaged about 6200 PA as a team per season. If you adjust the current rate of hit-by-pitches in 2019 over a sample size that large, the team is on pace to be hit by more pitches than any Yankee squad in the last ten years. Yikes.
We can debate intent, of course. I didn’t go through the video and context of every single hit-by-pitch to see whether a pitcher was acting with malice. Luke Voit was vocally upset about being drilled immediately following DJ LeMahieu’s home run on Saturday, but then Gary Sanchez was also hit just a batter later, which leads me to believe that Yonny Chirinos was just wild:
This is what Chirinos threw in the sixth inning when he hit Voit and Sanchez. Those two pitches are a sinker and a splitter - not the kinds of things you generally throw up in the zone, but Yonny was wild with both pitches for his entire outing:
Really, I think what’s driving this radical increase in hit-by-pitches isn’t some league-wide vendetta against the Yankees, but a natural reversion away from the fastball.
Even most casual baseball fans know that pitchers are throwing fewer and fewer fastballs, as teams focus on shorter outings from starters and more strikeouts from every pitcher. Batters struggle against sliders, curveballs and changeups more than fastballs, so if your goal is to increase strikeouts, those are the pitches you’re most likely to throw. As the Yankees are a team with plenty of high-strikeout bats, they’re obviously going to see even fewer fastballs than most teams.
Unfortunately for hitters, non-fastballs are also more difficult to control and anticipate, and consequently you’re more likely to get hit by them. This bears out in the numbers: of the 19 hit-by-pitches the Yankees have taken this year, only five are on true four-seam fastballs, compared to ten on sliders.
There’s nothing that I can see on the baseball horizon that would lead me to think the Yankees will suddenly see more fastballs than they are. If anything, the fact that the lineup is about to receive a boost from highly-skilled hitters like Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton should mean even MORE breaking balls are offered. As that happens, we should expect more Yankees being hit by pitches going forward, so cover up, guys.