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Wednesday night, while Max Scherzer was striking out 20 Tigers, the Reds and Pirates were striking each other. There were six hit batters in the game, four Pirates and two Reds. Reds’ reliever Ross Ohlendorf was ejected after the last of them, when he hit David Freese with a runner on second after the Pirates had taken a 5-4 lead.

This is not something new for these teams. Since the start of the 2012 season, there have been 94 players hit in 56 games between the Reds and Pirates. (Across the majors, there are, on average, .66 batters hit per game—.33 per side.) The six hit batters Wednesday represents an apex, but the teams combined for five hit batters on June 2, 2013, four on April 8 this year, and three on seven other occasions. In fairness, some of this is probably personnel-related. When you employ batters for whom getting hit by pitches is part of their on-base toolkit, like Shin-Soo Choo (hit seven times in Reds-Pirates games in 2013 alone) and Starling Marte (hit 14 times in Reds-Pirates games dating back to August 2012), it’s reasonable to expect things to get plunky. And Pirates games, in particular, feature a lot of HBPs in the box score. Since the start of the 2012 season, Pirates batters have been hit 328 times, the most in the majors and 15 percent more than the second-place Cardinals. Pirates pitchers have hit 293 batters, also the most in the majors, and 9 percent more than the second place White Sox. (The Reds are third at hitting batters and 14th at getting hit.) But six in one game is an awful lot, as is 94 since the start of the 2012.

This has led to discussion of what might be done about this sort of thing. A hard ball, thrown at high speeds, can cause damage to the human body. Per Brooks Baseball, the pitches that hit the six batters on Wednesday night were thrown at 91.7 (Alfredo Simon in the fourth), 94.8 (Juan Nicasio in the fourth), 80.9 (Simon in the sixth), 86.4 (Steve Delabar in the seventh), 92.5 (Jared Hughes in the seventh), and 95.0 (Ohlendorf in the ninth) miles per hour. Nobody appeared to get hurt in the game, but of course, batters aren’t always that lucky. So what can be done?

One proposal would be to give umpires more latitude to eject pitchers for retaliation. Baseball has a Book of Exodus hit-batter-for-a-hit-batter ethos. Batters may be hit intentionally for a number of reasons—htting home runs, a slow trot around the bases, using PEDs, being Bryce Harper or Alex Rodriguez—but retaliation for a prior hit by pitch offense, “protecting your teammate” in the parlance of players and announcers, is probably the most oft-cited reason.

As an aside, any suggestion that hit batters should be restrained leads to arguments that virtually always descend into grumbling that batters are coddled, pitchers can’t come inside, the game’s being wussified, etc. Let me say this: That’s nonsense. Here’s a graph of hit batters per plate appearance, from 1901 to the present. I reversed the scale, so when batters are getting hit the most—when there are the fewest plate appearances per hit batter—the line’s at the top of the graph.

Of the 14 seasons with the highest rate of batters being hit, 10 have occurred since 2001. The rate so far in 2016, one hit batter per 114.9 plate appearances, would slide in next at 15th. Far from hit batters being legislated out of baseball, we are living in the golden age of batters being hit by pitches. (The reason, I contend, is rising strikeout rates, but that’s another discussion.)

Specific to the Reds and Pirates, how much is retaliation a factor in the teams’ rising body count? Wednesday’s game would seem to suggest it’s the casus belli. In the first inning of the teams’ prior game on Monday (Tuesday’s game was rained out), Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Niese hit the Reds’ Joey Votto. In the top of the fourth on Wednesday, Simon hit the Pirates’ Jung-ho Kang. In the bottom of the inning, the Nicasio hit the Reds’ Brandon Phillips. In the top of the sixth, Simon hit Marte. In the top of the seventh, Delabar hit the Pirates’ Sean Rodriguez. In the bottom of the seventh, Jared Hughes hit the Reds’ Adam Duvall. In the top of the ninth, Ohlendorf hit Freese. Of the six hit batters, all but one—Rodriguez got hit after Marte had—could be construed as retaliation for the pitcher’s teammate being hit previously.

I catalogued all 94 hit batters in Reds-Pirates games from the start of 2012. In each instance, I considered the hit batter to be retaliation if it followed a member of the other team getting hit. This is a very liberal definition of retaliation. Hughes hit Brandon Phillips in a game on September 10, 2012. The teams played five more games that year without incident and went through the offseason before Mike Leake hit Marte in the bottom of the second on April 12, 2013. But, since a Pirate was hit following a Red being hit, I counted it as retaliation. Also, as there have been hit batters in 56 games between the two clubs since the start of 2012, there have been 27 games in which nobody got hit. I counted retaliation even if several games passed between the teams with nobody getting hit.

Date

Inning

Hitter

Hittee

Team Hit

Retaliation?

5/6/12

B1

Mat Latos

Jose Tabata

Pirates

5/6/12

T4

Charlie Morton

Ryan Hanigan

Reds

Yes

5/29/12

T7

Jared Hughes

Todd Frazier

Reds

No

6/6/12

T6

Johnny Cueto

Josh Harrison

Pirates

Yes

8/3/12

T9

Aroldis Chapman

Andrew McCutchen

Pirates

No

8/4/12

T2

Mike Leake

Josh Harrison

Pirates

No

8/5/12

T5

Alfredo Simon

Rod Barajas

Pirates

No

8/5/12

T8

Homer Bailey

Starling Marte

Pirates

No

9/10/12

T7

Jose Arredondo

Alex Presley

Pirates

No

9/10/12

B8

Jared Hughes

Brandon Phillips

Reds

Yes

4/12/13

B2

Mike Leake

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

4/13/13

T1

Jeff Locke

Shin-Soo Choo

Reds

Yes

4/14/13

T6

Jeanmar Gomez

Shin-Soo Choo

Reds

No

5/31/13

B1

Johnny Cueto

Andrew McCutchen

Pirates

Yes

5/31/13

T5

Wandy Rodriguez

Shin-Soo Choo

Reds

Yes

5/31/13

T8

Mike Zagurski

Brandon Phillips

Reds

No

6/1/13

T8

Tony Watson

Brandon Phillips

Reds

No

6/1/13

T8

Tony Watson

Todd Frazier

Reds

No

6/2/13

T1

Jeanmar Gomez

Shin-Soo Choo

Reds

No

6/2/13

B1

Mat Latos

Neil Walker

Pirates

Yes

6/2/13

T4

Vin Mazzaro

Shin-Soo Choo

Reds

Yes

6/2/13

B8

Jonathan Broxton

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

6/2/13

B10

Alfredo Simon

Starling Marte

Pirates

No

6/17/13

T4

Mike Leake

Andrew McCutchen

Pirates

No

6/18/13

B1

Charlie Morton

Shin-Soo Choo

Reds

Yes

6/18/13

B5

Charlie Morton

Xavier Paul

Reds

No

6/19/13

T5

Bronson Arroyo

Russell Martin

Pirates

Yes

6/19/13

T9

Alfredo Simon

Jordy Mercer

Pirates

No

6/20/13

T1

Homer Bailey

Andrew McCutchen

Pirates

No

7/20/13

B1

A.J. Burnett

Jack Hannahan

Reds

Yes

7/20/13

T8

Alfredo Simon

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

7/21/13

T9

Curtis Partch

Jordy Mercer

Pirates

No

9/20/13

B8

Sam LeCure

Andrew McCutchen

Pirates

No

9/22/13

B5

Bronson Arroyo

Jose Tabata

Pirates

No

9/27/13

T1

Homer Bailey

Neil Walker

Pirates

No

9/27/13

T3

Homer Bailey

Starling Marte

Pirates

No

9/28/13

B3

Charlie Morton

Shin-Soo Choo

Reds

Yes

9/29/13

T3

Greg Reynolds

Pedro Alvarez

Pirates

Yes

4/15/14

T7

Mike Leake

Starling Marte

Pirates

No

4/16/14

B8

Stolmy Pimentel

Chris Heisey

Reds

Yes

4/21/14

T1

Francisco Liriano

Billy Hamilton

Reds

No

4/21/14

B4

Mike Leake

Neil Walker

Pirates

Yes

4/22/14

T2

Edinson Volquez

Todd Frazier

Reds

Yes

4/23/14

T5

Charlie Morton

Devin Mesoraco

Reds

No

4/24/14

T2

Brandon Cumpton

Ryan Ludwick

Reds

No

4/24/14

T6

Brandon Cumpton

Joey Votto

Reds

No

4/24/14

T6

Brandon Cumpton

Todd Frazier

Reds

No

6/18/14

T3

Edinson Volquez

Devin Mesoraco

Reds

No

6/18/14

B6

Alfredo Simon

Russell Martin

Pirates

Yes

6/18/14

B7

Alfredo Simon

Clint Barmes

Pirates

No

6/19/14

B12

Tony Cingrani

Clint Barmes

Pirates

No

7/12/14

T1

Mike Leake

Andrew McCutchen

Pirates

No

7/13/14

T4

Johnny Cueto

Russell Martin

Pirates

No

8/29/14

T2

Edinson Volquez

Devin Mesoraco

Reds

Yes

8/29/14

T8

Edinson Volquez

Brandon Phillips

Reds

No

8/30/14

T7

Vance Worley

Devin Mesoraco

Reds

No

9/27/14

T1

Alfredo Simon

Josh Harrison

Pirates

Yes

9/27/14

B6

Jared Hughes

Yorman Rodriguez

Reds

Yes

9/27/14

T7

Sam LeCure

Travis Snider

Pirates

Yes

9/28/14

T8

Johnny Cueto

Andrew McCutchen

Pirates

No

9/28/14

B8

Justin Wilson

Devin Mesoraco

Reds

Yes

4/8/15

B11

Radhames Liz

Zack Cozart

Reds

No

4/9/15

T5

Anthony DeSclafani

Josh Harrison

Pirates

Yes

5/5/15

B6

Michael Lorenzen

Neil Walker

Pirates

No

5/7/15

T8

Jared Hughes

Todd Frazier

Reds

Yes

6/25/15

T7

Arquimedes Caminero

Brayan Pena

Reds

No

7/30/15

B5

A.J. Burnett

Tucker Barnhart

Reds

No

7/30/15

T7

Ryan Mattheus

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

7/30/15

B7

Antonio Bastardo

Jay Bruce

Reds

Yes

7/31/15

T1

Michael Lorenzen

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

8/1/15

B8

Joe Blanton

Marlon Byrd

Reds

Yes

8/2/15

T8

Pedro Villarreal

Andrew McCutchen

Pirates

Yes

8/2/15

B8

Tony Watson

Brandon Phillips

Reds

Yes

8/2/15

B9

Mark Melancon

Tucker Barnhart

Reds

No

9/7/15

T9

Aroldis Chapman

Sean Rodriguez

Pirates

Yes

9/8/15

B1

Francisco Liriano

Joey Votto

Reds

Yes

9/8/15

B4

Francisco Liriano

Adam Duvall

Reds

No

10/2/15

T11

Antonio Bastardo

Joey Votto

Reds

No

10/3/15

B9

Aroldis Chapman

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

4/8/16

T1

Alfredo Simon

David Freese

Pirates

No

4/8/16

B4

Francisco Liriano

Jay Bruce

Reds

Yes

4/8/16

T5

Alfredo Simon

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

4/8/16

T8

Ross Ohlendorf

John Jaso

Pirates

No

4/10/16

T5

Dan Straily

Jordy Mercer

Pirates

No

4/30/16

B5

Alfredo Simon

Starling Marte

Pirates

No

4/30/16

T7

Francisco Liriano

Jay Bruce

Reds

Yes

4/30/16

B8

Caleb Cotham

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

5/9/16

B1

Jonathan Niese

Joey Votto

Reds

Yes

5/11/16

T4

Alfredo Simon

Jung Ho Kang

Pirates

Yes

5/11/16

B4

Juan Nicasio

Brandon Phillips

Reds

Yes

5/11/16

T6

Alfredo Simon

Starling Marte

Pirates

Yes

5/11/16

T7

Steve Delabar

Sean Rodriguez

Pirates

No

5/11/16

B7

Jared Hughes

Adam Duvall

Reds

Yes

5/11/16

T9

Ross Ohlendorf

David Freese

Pirates

Yes

Reds-Pirates hit by pitch trivia: The player hit the most often is Marte, 14, followed by Andrew McCutchen (eight), Choo (seven), and Brandon Phillips (six). The pitcher who hit the most batters is Simon (12 despite pitching for Detroit in 2015), followed by Mike Leake (six) and Hughes, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton (five each). Simon has hit Marte five times,but no other pitcher/batter combination has occurred more than twice. Aroldis Chapman hit three Pirates, which has got to have hurt.

Of 93 opportunities for retaliation (not counting the first time a batter was hit during the span), I counted 46 instances in which it occurred. In other words, retaliation accounts for just under half of all Reds-Pirates hit batters. And if I exclude this season (15 hit batters in eight games—that’s a lot!), I chalk up 36 of 78 hit batters to retaliation.

You've probably figured out that, by this way of determining retaliation, half of HBPs would be called "retaliatory" by random chance alone. And so they are. If bad feelings are driving the extreme aggression in Pittsburgh/Cincinnati games, it's not showing up in the record—though, in fairness, we still can't rule it out, especially in the later stages of this rivalry. HBPs levels are especially high between the teams this year, and 10 of the 14 would meet our broad and liberal definition of "retaliatory."

So what can we conclude? Well, there have been a lot of hit batters in games between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, at least one in over two-thirds of the games between them since 2012. Reds-Pirates games have accounted for 0.8 percent of National League games played but 2.8 percent of hit batters since the start of the 2012. Is that too much? Yeah, probably. Should something be done about it before somebody gets hurt? Your mileage may vary, and it doesn’t sound unreasonable, but outlawing retaliation won’t do the trick. Because even with a broad definition of retaliation, that doesn’t seem to be what’s driving most of the hit batters here. Rather, we need to probably blame it on Baseball In The Modern Era.