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January 9, 2012

Pebble Hunting

The Battered Batter

by Sam Miller

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It’s 5:53 a.m. I have three hours, and one factoid for inspiration: Carlos Quentin has been hit in 4.0 percent of his plate appearances. Yuniesky Betancourt has walked in 3.3 percent of his. Let’s just see where this takes us.

***

February 9, 2002:

“Stanford's Carlos Quentin was hit by five pitches to set an NCAA Division-I record in the Cardinal's 15-11 victory over Florida State on Saturday.

“Quentin, a sophomore outfielder, was hit by pitches in the second, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings. He went 0-for-1.

“’I have kind of mixed feelings,’ said Quentin, who was hit by a team-high 14 pitches last season. ‘It's kind of fun to have a record, but it's not too fun to get hit five times.’”

***

Among the more than 3,000 players in history with at least 1,000 plate appearances, Quentin ranks second in HBP frequency, for now. If he gets hit in just one of his next 17 plate appearances, he will be the leader. On Aug. 17, he was still the leader, before going hit-by-pitchless over the rest of the season. The leaderboard:

1. F.P. Santangelo: once every 25.0 plate appearances
2. Quentin, every 25.1
3. Ron Hunt, every 25.3
4. Craig Wilson, every 25.7
5. Sal Fasano, every 26.5
6. Jason LaRue, every 26.9
7. Reed Johnson, every 29.7
8. Fernando Vina, every 30.2
9. Charlie Babb, every 30.6
10. Bert Daniels, every 31.1

21. Don Baylor, every 35.2

39. Craig Biggio, every 43.2

Seventeen of the top 50 players on this list were catchers. (Eleven of those were primarily catchers. Others, like Craig Wilson and Biggio, came up as catchers or caught occasionally.)

***

The average pitch thrown to Carlos Quentin over the past three seasons had a velocity of 87.6 mph. The average pitch that hit Carlos Quentin over the past three seasons was 89.7 mph. In that time, Quentin has been hit by 11 pitches that were at least 94 mph. Carlos Quentin is not getting hit by a lot of curveballs.

***

The fastest pitch that Quentin has taken in the past three years was a 97-mph fastball from Neftali Feliz. Quentin just stayed still and left his arm out for it:

Rangers announcer Tom Grieve:

“He doesn’t even try to get out of the way, so.”

{watches replay}

“I’d give any hitter credit. If you stand up there and don’t give ground, don’t really get out of the way and you want to take a 96-mph fastball and you don’t have a pad on your elbow, you deserve that base.”

***

Carlos Quentin doesn’t wear any pads because they make his swing uncomfortable, he says. Carlos Quentin also claims that he doesn’t crowd the plate but is merely the victim of a scouting report that says “pound him inside.” This is silly. Quentin doesn’t particularly get pounded inside. Sticking with Yuniesky Betancourt, for instance—Betancourt sees more pitches inside than Quentin does. Yuniesky Betancourt has been hit by nine pitches in his career. Yuniesky Betancourt is very particular about gifts. If Yuniesky Betancourt was on The Price Is Right and won the showcase showdown, he would probably turn it down, for tax reasons.

***

That HBP against Neftali Feliz was actually quite clutch, or contextually significant, or whatever you want to say. The game was tied in the ninth. There was a runner on first and two outs; the White Sox had just removed Paul Konerko from the game for a pinch-runner, so they were going to be at a disadvantage if the game went into extra innings. Quentin not only reached first, but moved the runner into scoring position. The next batter doubled and both runners scored, and the White Sox won.

By win probability added, Quentin’s HBPs have been worth more than three wins to his teams. They have added steadily more value as he has aged, partly because Quentin is getting hit more frequently, and partly because he is getting hit in higher-leverage situations.

2006: 0.22 win probability added
2007: 0.30
2008: 0.52
2009: 0.54
2010: 0.72
2011: 0.86

The average win probability added of his HBPs in the first three years of his career was about 2.7 percent. The average WPA over the past three years was a bit more than 3.6 percent.

And remember how he gets hit once every 25 plate appearances? With a leverage index below 0.25—very low-leverage situations—he gets hit once every 60 or so plate appearances. Since 2009, he has been hit about once every 95 plate appearances in those situations. So, while acknowledging the sample-size limitations, it is conceivable that getting hit by a pitch is one manifestation of clutchiness.  

***

Quentin was hit by a pitch in 1 out of 15 plate appearances as a minor leaguer. In his first pro season, he was hit in 1 out of 13 plate appearances. He was hit by 43 pitches that year, and he drew 43 walks.

***

Somewhat surprisingly—to me—Quentin doesn’t seem to have any particular ability to get hit in pitcher’s counts. The glory of the HBP is that it can entirely undo a lousy count, whereas an inside pitch taken for a ball can only make a lousy count less lousy. A HBP on 0-2 would, then, be more valuable than a HBP on 2-0 (and, obviously, 3-0, where a HBP is no more valuable than a ball). But Quentin isn’t more likely to get hit when he’s behind in the count. Since 2009:

0-0: 0.7 percent of pitches hit him
0-1: 1.1
0-2: 1.0
1-0: 1.0
1-1: 1.4
1-2: 1.1
2-0: 0.0
2-1: 1.6
2-2: 1.4
3-0: 1.5
3-1: 0.8
3-2: 3.2

Or:

Behind in the count: 1.1 percent of pitches
Even: 1.0
Ahead in the count: 1.3

Most perplexing is how frequently Quentin gets hit with three balls. You don’t need to do that, dummy. One might conclude from this that Quentin doesn’t have as much control of these HBPs as the clutch discussion above seemed to suggest.

***

That pitch with which Neftali Feliz hit Quentin was 1.404 feet from the center of home plate. Yuniesky Betancourt saw 65 pitches that were at least that far inside in 2011. He swung at 11 of them and was hit by two. Quentin saw 53 pitches at least that far inside in 2011. He swung at three and was hit by 16. Of all the active players in baseball with fewer than 10 career HBPs, Betancourt has the second-most plate appearances, behind Pedro Feliz.

Pedro Feliz is still active!

***

Quentin once got hit by a Jon Lester pitch that was 0.856 feet from the center of home plate. That is a pitch that is less than two inches inside. Quentin took 30 called strikes in 2011 that were further inside than this pitch. (Jon Lester has hit Quentin in three of the 15 times he has faced him. Nick Blackburn has hit 18 batters in his career; Quentin is four of those.)

The 0.856-foot HBP looked like this:

And Terry Francona said grrrrrrrrr:

And Jon Lester said awwwww c’mon:

And then Carlos Quentin was all like:

***

Aug. 24, 2004:

“He also hasn't been hurt by any of the pitches that have hit him this year, which surprises Diamondbacks manager Al Pedrique.

“‘When you get hit that many times, sooner or later, I hope he learns to get out of the way so he doesn't get hurt big-time,’ Pedrique said, adding he would remind Quentin to try to avoid being hit as often.”


Sam Miller also writes for the Orange County Register.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

9 comments have been left for this article.

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