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Guest Post: Bruise Crew Ball

As you may have noticed, Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder get hit by a lot of pitches.  There is no man alive, under the age of 30, who has been hit by more Major League pitches than Rickie Weeks.  There is no man alive under the age of 27 who has been hit by more pitches than Prince Fielder.  And somehow, you have them playing on the same team there in Milwaukee - coexisting on the same half of the same infield - and you haven't caused some kind of baseball vortex to be opened up where all the universe's baseballs are gradually accelerating toward a spot someplace on the infield grass at Miller Park.  As far as I know.  And that's the sort of thing I pay attention to.  For those of you not familiar with my work, I write a website called Plunk Everyone, and Kyle asked me to come write a guest post about the Brewers.  Of course I'm glad to, because I've been writing about the Brewers a lot anyway.  I write about batters who get hit by a lot pitches, and the Brewers have had several.

For most of you, the HBP is probably a footnote in the box score.  Unless it touches off a brawl, or an angry demand for plunkful vengeance, you brush by it while you're watching the game and wait for something more exciting to happen.  You may think it's just random chance when someone gets hit.  Or when one player gets hit a lot, you might think he's being targeted by opposing pitchers for some reason - like slow home run trots, or violating some other secret unwritten baseball rule.  But, the ability to take a large number of HBPs is a skill, and a rare one.  You can see this if you take a look at how the league's HBPs are concentrated around a few players.  Weeks and Fielder have taken 3.5% of all plunks recorded in 2010.  If you add in 5 more guys (Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre, Travis Hafner, Marlon Byrd, and Jose Guillen), you get 7 guys who account for 10% of all league-wide HBPs.  They get hit because they're good at getting hit, and Fielder and Weeks have been particularly good at getting hit this year.

Earlier this year, Prince Fielder became the 1st Brewer to get hit 7 times in the month of April.  He also joined Rickie Weeks and Jason Kendall as the only active players who got their 50th career plunk before turning 26 years old.  His 12 HBPs at the all-star break are a career best for the unofficial half-way point of the season.  He's only 2 HBPs away from tying his best total for a full season.  For Rickie Weeks' part, he's just been leading the major leagues with 17 plunks.  That's tied for the highest all-star break plunk total in Brewers history, with his own 2006 season.  Since the mid-80s, only Weeks, Jason Kendall, and Don Baylor have been hit at least 17 times at the all-star break in two different seasons.  And just last weekend, he broke the record for most career plunks at Miller Park with 33.

Combined, they've been hit 29 times as of this year's All-Star break.  In the past 25 seasons, only 2 other pairs of teammates have been hit that many times before the mid-summer classic.  Jason Kendall and Craig Wilson combined for 29 in 2004, and Craig Biggio and Richard Hidalgo combined for 30 in 2000.  In the span of Jamie Moyer's career, Fielder and Weeks are just the 5th pair of teammates to each have 12 plunks at the break.  The two of them are currently 1st and 2nd (tied) in the league plunk standings, and the last teammates to finish in the top 2 of the league HBP standings were Carlton Fisk and Chet Lemon for the 1981 White Sox.  If Weeks and Fielder keep up their current pace of plunks per game, Weeks would finish the season with 30 HBPs, and Fielder with 21.  That's particularly interesting for fans of things that haven't happened in a long time, because no team has had two players over 20 HBPs in nearly 100 years. 

In 1911, Doc Gessler got hit by 20 pitches in his final year for the Washington Senators, and his teammate Kid Elberfeld (who was 36, despite the name) got hit 25 times. Never again did a pair of teammates each get hit by 20 pitches. And only twice since then has a player named Doc been on a team with a player named Kid. (In all, there have been 21 Doc and Kid combos in league history, but none since 1914. That's not really relevant to anything though.)  Prior to that, the 1903 New York Giants had Charlie Babb get hit 22 times, while his double play partner Billy Gilbert got 20.  If Fielder and Weeks both hit their year-end projections though, they'll have at least 21 each.  To find another duo of 21 plunk teammates we have to go back to the 1900 St. Louis Cardinals, where Hall of Famer John McGraw got hit 23 times and Dan McGann got 24 plunks.  McGann is 7th on the all time HBP list with 230 career plunks.  He's also the only player to be part of 2 different 20 plunk duos, because in 1898, playing for the old National League Baltimore Orioles, McGann got hit by 39 pitches while teammate and all-time plunk record holder Hughie Jennings got hit 46 times.  That was the greatest HBP performance by a pair of teammates in baseball history, although obviously they played in a different era - the first golden age of HBPs.  7 years before that, the Orioles were part of the American Association, and had two players named Pete Gilbert and Curt Welch get hit by 28 and 36 pitches.  Those are the only 5 times in baseball history that two players on the same team have been hit by at least 20 pitches.  There could be a 6th this year in Milwaukee.

However, Weeks and Fielder won't be the first to make a strong run at joining this club. 3 different two-man combinations have come within 1 plunk, and they've all done it in the past 10 years.  Reed Johnson got 20 HBPs in 2003 for the Blue Jays, while teammate Carlos Delgado fell just short with 19.  On the 2004 Pirates, Craig Wilson got hit by 30 pitches while teammate Jason Kendall only got 19.  Kendall left Pittsburgh after that year, probably due to the shame of failure.  And, in 2007, Chase Utley got hit by 25 pitches for the Phillies, and Aaron Rowand came ever so close to the 20 plunk mark with 19.  He too left the team the following winter.  Delgado waited one more year after his failure before leaving the Blue Jays.  I'm sure that only looks like a trend.

So, what are the odds that Weeks and Fielder can be the first teammates with 20 plunks each in nearly 100 years? Weeks looks like a lock to get over 20, as long as you try not to notice his 2006 campaign when he also had 17 plunks at the all-star break and finished his season on July 24th with 19 HBPs and a wrist injury.  The plunks may have had something to do with that, but he's probably learned to be more careful about which bumps he takes for the team.  Fielder's route will be a little tougher - only 4 of the last 20 players with 12 HBPs at the All-Star break finished the year with over 20 HBPs.  On the other hand 11 of the last 21 players to get hit 20 times in a season had less than 12 plunks at the break.  The other obstacle might be that there seem to be a lot of rumors that one or both of them will get traded by the end of the year, which would most likely make them no longer teammates.  It would still be interesting for them to get hit by 20 pitches, but not nearly as interesting as if they do so on the same team.

Since that doesn't clear things up much, how about a side-by-side comparison.  Since the available stats on the Kid Elberfeld and Doc Gessler duo aren't sufficient for this sort of thing, lets look at Fielder and Weeks' first half HBP stats compared to the most recent players to come close to the 20/20 club - Utley and Rowand.  They're very similar in a lot of ways.  Utley is left handed and Fielder is left handed.  Rowand is right handed, and Weeks is right handed.  Utley and Weeks both play 2nd base.  And Fielder and Rowand both... have the letter R in their last name.  Anyway, lets go to the Tale of the Ice-Packs. 

Below is a collection of assorted splits, one of which might shed light on whether or not Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks attempt to each get hit by 20 pitches each will be more successful than the 2007 attempt by Chase Utley and Aaron Rowand.

HBP Split 2010 Weeks and Fielder
(as of All-Star break)
2007 Utley and Rowand
(as of All-Star break)
Total 29 27
w/ bases loaded 1 0
scored runs 5 11
0-0 count 7 5
0-2 count 4 7
ahead in count 7 2
behind in count 8 16
3-ball counts 3 1
2-strike counts 12 14
1st pitch 7 5
2nd pitch 4 6
3rd pitch 8 6
after 2 or more
bat swings in PA
5 7
after 5 or more
bat swings in PA
1 0
after 1 or less
foul balls in PA
27 22
after 2 or more
foul balls in PA
2 5
after 5 or more
foul balls in PA
1 0
on Tuesdays 4 6
on Saturdays 5 2
At Miller Park 15 0
At Citizens Bank Park 0 14
North of 40 degrees
north latitude
21 3
West of 90 degrees
west longitude
6 5
At parks named after
banks or insurance companies
3 21
At parks named after beer 18 2
vs NL Central teams 16 8
vs AL teams 7 4
vs NL East teams 3 10
vs RHP 19 15
vs LHP 10 12
vs pitchers born
in the original
13 US states
7 6
vs Australians 1 0
vs Aquariuses 6 3
vs Rabbits* 3 4
1st inning 5 4
9th inning 5 4
11th inning 1 1
On prime numbered
days of the month
8 10
in April 12 12
in May 3 8
in June 9 7
in July 5 0

*- pitchers born in the Chinese year of the Rabbit.

Hopefully this sheds some light on the rare skills on display every time Rickie Weeks or Prince Fielder gets a free pass to first base on an HBP. And, here's hoping they can both continue to safely get hit by pitches. In another 100 years, maybe people will be looking back on this year's accomplishment, marveling at their abilities to get hit by so many pitches, and wondering why you just don't get many ball players named Prince or Rickie anymore, like you did back in the old days.