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Dotting Anthony Rizzo’s path to history

How far up the all-time HBP list will the Yankee first baseman get?

New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Anthony Rizzo will not challenge Barry Bonds’ home run record, or Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, or any of the other real “immortal” standards in baseball history. He’s not quite a Hall of Fame talent, although a long, high-floor end of career might get him there. But there is one thing that Anthony Rizzo does, perhaps better than anyone in the game today. Anthony Rizzo gets hit by a lot of pitches.

Since becoming a full-time player in 2013, Rizzo’s been hit by 20 pitches a year on average, three times leading the league. After getting smoked in Wednesday’s game against the Angels, Rizzo moved past Chase Utley on the all-time HBP leaderboard, taking sole possession of eighth place with 205 dots.

Rizzo’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but this is exactly the time when we look towards legacy, and ask the question: could he end up the most struck batter in baseball history?

He’s got 82 HBP to go to match Hughie Jennings, and at 33 has just a single guaranteed year left on his contract. Rizzo’s accomplished a lot in his career, I think it’s fair to wonder if he’s the kind of guy that will want to hang around until he’s 40 — he won’t have the big contracts that Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera or Joey Votto got, and stacked up so much professional and team success in the front half of his career that he doesn’t need to chase a ring unless he really wants to.

Should he want to play after the expiration of his current contract, though, ZiPS does give us three-year projections for his playing time:

So taking those three years of playing time into account...

So if Rizzo plays out his age-35 season, there’s a real chance he ends up with the sixth-most HBP of all time. He’s had a remarkably consistent ability to get beaned, and dots aren’t really something that would change as bat speed declines — as long as Tony’s on the field, I think it’s likely he gets plunked at pretty much the same rate.

Moving past age-35, though, things get more tricky. ZiPS projects about a nine percent decrease every year in Rizzo’s playing time, as age inevitably catches up with all of us. Building in that nine percent drop in playing time, how long before Rizzo could realistically approach Jennings’ legendary career mark?

Like Henry Aaron chasing down the Babe, our hypothetical 38-year old Rizzo would end the 2027 season just one beanball away from baseball immortality. The pressure for Rizzo, by then almost certainly on year-to-year contracts, to return and break one of the game’s unbreakable records would be enormous — unfortunately, the cachet of the all-time HBP chase doesn’t quite stand up next to other records, which may limit our hero’s opportunity for a major league roster spot.

We’re building a fair few assumptions into this model — maybe Rizzo is able to stave off age-based regression more than we’re giving him credit for. Maybe the lure of the record book gets to him and he leans over the plate even more than he does now, accelerating the chase to 287.

As it stands, a lot of things have to go right for Rizzo to be baseball’s undisputed HBP king, probably too many things for us to say he’s likely to do so. If he plays to the end of his Yankees contract, he still probably comes close, or exceeds, the 250 HBP threshold, a piece of baseball history in its own right. For the most decorated — beanball bruising can leave a fun color palette — beanball collector of his generation, the company of baseball immortals and all those free trips to first base must be worth it.