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Agreed to terms with RHP Carlos Marmol on a one-year, $2.125 million contract, avoiding arbitration. [2/4]

With that, the Wild Man’s back, which just gives me an opportunity to repeat the finding I shared back in the comments segment about the otherwise entirely unexciting arbitration settlement of David Bush, that the single-season high rate for hit batsmen in 2009 was achieved by Carlos Marmol, who plunked 12 batters to achieve a bruising pace of 3.58 percent of the men who stepped in against him. Historically, that’s incredible, because if you look at the list of people in the database with higher rates, none of them pitched as many as 50 innings, so they had fewer opportunities to bury people at the plate. Cutting the figure to 60 IP, and here’s your top 10:

Rk Blackguard             IP   HBP Percentage
 1 Carlos Marmol, '09     74    12   3.582%
 2 Jerry Spradlin '99     61    10   3.497%
 3 Bob Wells '01          68.2  10   3.344%
 4 Esteban Yan '99        61     9   3.147%
 5 Brian Fuentes '05      74.1  10   3.115%
 6t Jerome Williams '04  129.1  17   3.041%
 6t Geoff Geary '07       67.1   9   3.041%
 8 Chan Ho Park '04       95.2  13   3.037%
 9 Charlie Hough '75      61     8   3.030%
10 Ken McBride '64       116.1  16   3.002%

That’s the entire list of people with 60 IP in a season with a “clean” three percent of opposing batters planted at home plate and then put on first base; the complete list is here. Now, maybe you, like me, was struck by the incidence of so many relievers on the list, as well as recent guys. It’s an interesting coincidence that Larry Rothschild managed the Devil Rays team that had Yan on it, and was Marmol’s pitching coach.

Raise the threshold to 100 IP in a year, and you get a top 20 that’s made up of Ken McBride and 19 guys from the last dozen years; two of those 19 were knuckleballers (Tim Wakefield in 2001, and Dennis Springer in ’98). You’ll find that just five of the top 50 pitched before the work stoppage of ’94. Roger Clemens‘ ’95 ranks 25th and Nolan Ryan‘s ’71 season shows up at 38th overall, but you have to go down a ways before you start seeing other names that, historically, have been associated with coming inside: Don Drysdale‘s ’61 season ranks 88th, Pedro Martinez shows up a couple of times after that, and you’ll find Bruce Kison and Jim Lonborg here as well, but generally speaking, it’s a list that leans heavily towards two things: the contemporary, or the guys who relies on the flutterball. Infer from it what you will, chemical rage, higher levels of offense, batters crowding the plate, umps calling few batter indifference plays, you name it. But consider the data on hit batsmen as an incidence of total plays:

Period   Percentage
1954-59    0.514%
1960-69    0.578%
1970-79    0.509%
1980-89    0.468%
1990-99    0.723%
2000-09    0.934%

In short, the game has never been so bloody-minded, and certainly dwarfs the period in the ’60s, when Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale ruled the roost. The ’70s and ’80s stand as a clear sign post that the DH had nothing to do with it; pitchers hitting batters free from the fear they may get their come-uppance amounts to very little. The rising rates of hit batsemen hasn’t been news for a while yet, but in light of Marmol’s ignominious feat, it bears remembering. Will Carroll‘s been on the case as far as calling for better protective equipment, but that wouldn’t address the underlying issue: batters of late have been hit more often than ever before.

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Re-signed LHP Damian Moss to a minor-league contract. [2/2]

You remember Moss for his brief bit of success as a back-end rotation option with the Braves, as he went 12-6 with a 3.42 ERA in 2002, which was good for a SNLVAR of 4.8. He was promptly dealt to the Giants for Merkin Valdez and Russ Ortiz; Ortiz may have had only two good years left in him as a rotation workhorse, but that was two more than Moss, who was packaged to the Orioles in a deadline deal for Sir Sidney Ponson, giving the Dutch knight the opportunity to make his first and last post-season start. (The Giants lost.) The O’s non-tendered Moss when he wasn’t even arbitration-eligible, but he was then a complete disaster trying to catch on with the then-Devil Rays in ’04, getting cut altogether in August, and from there drifted between various gigs: the Reds briefly, the Mariners‘ organization in ’05, the 2006 WBC (for his native Australia), and a couple of doses of independent league action. He left the Giants’ camp without taking the mound in ’07, briefly passing into retirement for an obliquely referred-to unresolved issue. He finally got somewhat back on track as a still-wild utility pitcher at Richmond in 2008, although even that “success” was modest, as he was still giving up more than five runs and walks per nine. He caught on with the Rockies last year, repeating in a middle-relief, mop-up role where he generated ground-ball outs and walks while bass-ackwardly showing no potential use as a situational lefty. Still, it was a slightly better season, with 3.8 RA/9, but still walking 5.5 batters per nine at Triple-A. There’s something missing from the story, as far as a ready explanation for what it was that got him cut in ’07, and perhaps what derailed his career, but he’s obviously earned some measure of trust with the Rox, at least as far as getting a repeat engagement.

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Signed RHPs Jeff Weaver and Ramon Ortiz to minor-league contracts. [2/3]

Weaver’s interesting in that this was either the best deal he was going to get, or he’s just happier as a prospective utility pitcher anticipating that there will be a spot for him after the Dodgers decide that they won’t keep both or perhaps either of their Rule 5 picks, Armando Zerpa and Carlos Monasterios. There should be at least two bullpen jobs in play, as well as the fifth slot in the rotation, and while Weaver might not be the best answer for any of those roles, he’s also not the worst, and we know how Joe Torre likes to have the odd right-handed veteran swing guy to carry around. If Weaver’s lot is as a non-guaranteed Jason Grimsley-by-proxy, that’s not the worst adaptation, either to the market or Torre’s foibles.

Seeing Ortiz get a return engagement is interesting, because it’s easy to forget that he never stopped pitching. After joining Jim Bowden’s lengthening list of failed attempts at retreading yet another fourth starter in 2006, he was hindering the Twins in 2007 before getting dealt to the Rockies for their stretch run in 2007; 11 runs allowed in 13 innings eliminated any chance he might be seen as an asset on the post-season roster. So he did what any struggling strike-thrower might do: he went to Japan for 2008. Matters didn’t get any better there, as he surrendered 10 homers in 82 IP for the Orix Buffaloes while posting a 5.82 ERA. That failure having been endured, he came back stateside and got a spin with the Giants’ organization last year, starting off as a middle reliever for Fresno before getting pressed into rotation action for the Grizzlies in the second half. He redeemed his Japanese experience, at least, striking out 114 in 129 2/3 IP against just 34 walks, allowing 3.7 runs per nine. His performance was heavily dependent on beating up on PCL right-handed batters (.219/.248/.320), and there’s not a lot of reason to expect he’s a significantly better pitcher than the guy who flopped with the Nats, Twins, Rox, and Buffs now that he’s on the cusp of turning 37. Still, if a second chance for Jeff Weaver or Eric Milton can turn out somewhat well, there’s no harm in looking.

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Claimed RHP Marco Estrada off waivers from the Nationals; designated RHP Tim Dillard for assignment. [2/3]
Outrighted RHP Tim Dillard to Nashville (Triple-A). [2/5]

The idea of the Nats losing pitching talent to anyone might seem ridiculous, but the state of the Brewers‘ rotation and pitching depth is barely any better than those of los Federales, especially after you get past the front three of Yovani Gallardo, Doug Davis, and Randy Wolf. That the Brewers have choices to make between Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, and David Bush doesn’t make them good choices, and it’s relatively easy to envision a situation where all three of the back-end trio flop. So, to Doug Melvin’s credit, they’re keeping an eye on the wire, and the wire provides.

Estrada’s not a great prospect, and he gets graded down for his slight stature, but he throws consistently into the low 90s, supplemented with an effective changeup; as a rotation regular for the Chiefs last year, he managed 6.5 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9, with a slight fly-ball tendency. He did a particularly good job of neutralizing the running game, as stolen-base attempts wound up at 6-for-11 with him on the mound. His upside is somewhere between bump-worthy fifth starter or middle reliever and set fourth rotation man, and since he’ll be turning 27 in July, it isn’t like there’s any reason to believe there’s any untapped physical potential. That was just about Dillard’s ultimate upside in best-case scenarios, but Dillard’s the same age and has performed slightly less well with an unimpressive, slower sinker/slider mix.

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Signed LHPs Travis Blackley and Bobby Livingston, RHP Carlos Muniz, UT-R Jolbert Cabrera, and MI-R Luis Hernandez to minor-league contracts. [2/4]

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Signed OF-S Freddy Guzman to a minor-league contract. [2/3]
Signed RHP Oscar Villarreal to a minor-league contract. [2/4]

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Signed RHP Guillermo Mota to a minor-league contract. [2/2]

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Signed OF-R Kevin Mench to a minor-league contract. [2/3]
Signed INF-L Adam Kennedy to a one-year, $1.25 million contract, with a $2 million club option for 2011. [2/5]

No sooner did Orlando Hudson decide to take the Twins’ offer than the Nats struck quickly as far as signing up Kennedy for considerably less, and with an option. It’s just as well, in that Kennedy’s perhaps a better fit for the Nationals’ needs. He has experience at third base, which might make for a better utility-oriented role, but the initial noise about the deal has suggested that Ian Desmond‘s just had his ticket pre-punched for Triple-A, with Cristian Guzman moving back to short so that Kennedy can take over the keystone.

This is glum stuff if you’re one of the Desmond fan club. While Kennedy’s coming off of his best year in the last seven, it’s the other six years that provide cause for frustration. Admittedly, Desmond’s defense at short has gotten mixed reviews, but so have Guzman’s, and evaluations of Kennedy’s defense haven’t been all that consistently positive across various metrics. If Kennedy’s projecting towards an EqA in the .240s, that’s not exactly an endorsement of his usefulness, nor is it appreciably better than what the club might expect from Desmond. However, the sunny-side view of the matter is that if between Desmond, Guzman, and Kennedy, they have three start-worthy options up the middle, that’s not exactly bad news. That should keep them from playing Alberto Gonzalez regularly for any reason, and it isn’t like Kennedy’s been signed to a financially significant deal. If Kennedy repeats last year’s success, he’ll have value at the end of July (the cheap option doesn’t hurt), as will Guzman, so Desmond’s wait might only be a matter of months.

As for interesting comebacks, seeing Kevin Mench return to play stateside might be cause for excitement for people still having trouble letting go of the Menchkins platoon that briefly part of Brewers history. As is, that platoon was a great way of making up for the Brewers’ initial overestimation of Mench in an instance of yet another Rangers outfielder living down to lowered expectations. Traveling to Japan last year, he didn’t play for long, hitting .148/.179/.204 in 56 PAs for the Hanshin Tigers.

Thanks to Eric Seidman for research assistance.

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The HBP statistics for Marmol are interesting. Any chance of trying to correlate that top-50 list with managers or pitching/bullpen coaches?
Anecdotally, it does seem that the general HBP rise is more on the batter than the pitcher. We all know about Craig Biggio's HBP ways, and how it was at one point an integral part of his game (he got on base 34 times one year just by getting plunked!).

But did you know that Chipper Jones has gotten hit only 17 times his entire career? That's .1% of all PAs.

Biggio started accumulating a ton of HBP in the mid 90's, well into his career. He was league-normal before that. Similarly, Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield (just two guys I thought of who wore a ton of armor at the plate) "discovered" the HBP in the mid 90's.
More batter HBP craziness-- Jason Kendall (his career started in the mid 90's), Carlos Delgado (his HBP numbers started going up in '98), Jason Giambi (HBP rate spiked during his contract year with the A's), Alex Rodriguez (spiked during his first year with Texas), and David Eckstein (he just came into the league getting hit by pitches left and right).

All of these guys either raised their HBP rate at some point in their careers or, like Kendall and Eckstein, are "scrappy" guys who just try to get on base however they can.

Meanwhile Chipper Jones has never been very spry, has given pitchers plenty of reasons to bean him, and has had periods of zero lineup protection. Yet hardly ever gets plunked.
I think it's on the batters too.

"Will Carroll's been on the case as far as calling for better protective equipment, but that wouldn't address the underlying issue: batters of late have been hit more often than ever before."

Doesn't it make sense that the increased use of protective equipment has led to a higher HBP rate? Armored up, why not let it hit you instead of diving out of the way? I think that happens.
That's true, but I imagine most of the batter induced HBPs are not terribly dangerous. If you're going to get plunked on purpose, you're going to do it carefully, and you're not going to do it with your head.
Any chance the HBP craze is because of the newfangled protective equipment?
It's certainly a factor worth bringing up. That's the thing: What's the ideal solution? Umpires more willing to rule the batter made no effort to avoid the pitch plus better protective equipment for both the batters and the pitchers? Possibly. But I'm interested in what everyone else feels about the subject.
Before we start adding more protective equipment, I'd like just to start enforcing the inside part of the batter's box.
Batter indifference or pitcher indifference? Are pitchers more willing to throw inside because of the protective equipment? Pitchers have less fear of hurting someone while batters still need to overcome their natural instinct to dodge an inside pitch. Not to mention that the equipment make batters a larger target.
"Umpires more willing to rule the batter made no effort to avoid the pitch plus better protective equipment for both the batters and the pitchers?"

I vote yes. If my six-year-old son can understand this rule (it gets called against me all the time in wiffle ball), I'd think major leaguers could wrap their brains around it.

I'd love to hear from some MLB umps as to why they don't call this more often. Especially guys who've been around long enough to remember when it was otherwise.
I'm kind of surprised Marmol didn't get signed to a multiyear contract for say 4-5 million a year.

Let's say last year was an aberration and this year he reverts back to his dominating form and tallies a bunch of saves (which looks good in arbitration cases). The Cubs might be forced to pay a ton more next year.

If I were the Cubs, I would've signed him for 3 years at 4 million or so a year and realize that even at last year's performance, he would've still been worth the 4 million.
Hendry generally goes year to year on arbitration cases, although very rarely actually goes to arbitration.

He only signs mediocre outfielders to multi-year deals.
I say let hitters wear all the armor they want, but if a pitched ball hits the armor, no free base.
agreed, but the umpires also have to be willing to call a strike if they stick their armored elbow into the strike zone to get hit
Allow me to suggest that global warming helps to explain the increase in hit batters. Folks (and presumably, pitchers) get more aggressive when the temperature rises, and from what I hear summers are hotter now than they were even 15 years ago.
Except that last summer was exceptionally cool here in Chicago, so at least half the time, not to mention it's almost always colder in Chicago than it usually is in Marmol's home country, pinning us down with a nature/nurture/nature/geography/ecology pickle spear.