There is a great article on espn.com interviewing Brandon Guyer about his frequency of getting hit by pitches. Guyer attributes it to his batting stride that leaves his front leg to get hit a lot because lefties in particular pitch him inside, and he doesn’t move once he’s stepped forward into the stride.
First, Tim Kirkjian’s final question states that some players got hit by a lot of pitches because they “can’t hit.” I don’t see it. Most of the career leaders in HBP were at least good hitters. If anything, a lot of them appear to be guys who realized the value of getting on base a lot, but weren’t particularly good at working walks.
Second, I remember so much being made about Craig Biggio breaking the career hit by pitch record some years ago now, but I didn’t realize he actually finished two HBPs behind all time leader Hughie Jennings, who got plunked 287 times between 1891 and 1903.
The generation between 1885 and 1905 was certainly the golden age of hit batsmen for a number of reasons. First, this was the generation in which pitchers were finally allowed to pitch overhand and the pitchers mound was gradually moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet six inches. Pitchers had adjustments to make every so many seasons, so one would expect a learning curve in terms of HBP and wild pitches.
Also, that generation was the roughest era in baseball history, if not necessarily the toughest. One would expect a lot of hit pitches because pitchers were trying to intimidate hitters (no batting helmets until 1941), and certain batters were willing and able to take advantage of it by getting on base a lot more than they would have otherwise.
This was the era in which MLB players were dominated by Northeast Irish Americans who came from poor backgrounds. If fighting was part of the game, they fought, not unlike hockey players today.
However, the records don’t indicate that HBP were really much more frequent then than they are in the modern game. Biggio came within two of Jennings’ career total; and Ron Hunt in 1971, when the game was much more like today than then, got hit 50 times, only once fewer than Jennings’ single season record set in 1894.
Seven of the top 21 in career terms played during the hit batsman’s Greatest Generation, as did a whopping 13 out of the top 22 single seasons. However, those 13 single-seasons were recorded by only five different players, suggesting that it could have had as much to do with the fact that the 1885-1905 generation had an especially high number of batters with that specific skill (to get hit a lot and not get seriously hurt) in historic terms.
In fact, that’s what the records seem to show: that Brandon Guyer is one of those rare players with an extreme skill, similar to submarine or knuckleball pitchers. In fact, it seems like there are relatively as many of these players who played or are playing in the present generation as there ever were (not bloody many), but that these guys don’t get hit quite as often per season now as during the 1885-1905 period.
This makes a certain amount of sense as the rise of sabrmetrics in the last generation has shown baseball people that HBPs are ultimately better for batters than pitchers, because a free base is a free base and leads to more runs scored. More batters should be willing to be hit to get on base, and pitchers should be trying harder than ever to prevent the free base, except in those rare situations when a message needs to be sent. Some pitchers, of course, still throw at hitters for intimidation purposes.
Anyway, although Brandon Guyer now has the highest HBP rate for players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, he has only 68 career HBP shortly into his age 31 season, even with the 55 he collected in 2015-2016. That’s only good enough for a four-way tie for 246th most all time. Another season like the last two and he could make it into the top 100, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep hitting enough to get the plate appearances he’ll need to move up the career lists.