Here's why early-season plunkings are up 17 percent from 2017
Major league pitchers are placing batters on notice: Beware of the inside pitch.
The regular season is only two weeks old, and already 149 batters — or 0.42 per game — have been plunked.
It's certainly early, but that rate is 17 percent higher than 2017's full-season rate and would be the highest in baseball since a rate of 0.39 in 2001.
And it's hard to miss the impact some of these HBPs have had thus far.
One led to a bench-clearing brawl that featured four ejections.
One broke the elbow of All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus of the Rangers.
And while Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado didn't get drilled, he was buzzed by a 98 mph fastball from San Diego Padres starter Luis Perdomo that led to a wild scrum and five ejections.
Why the high rate of hit batters?
There may be no overriding factor within such a small sample size, but a confluence of weather, pitcher adjustments and familiarity breeding contempt could provide some explanations.
The 2018 schedule's alignment has clustered games between East and West rivals early on:
Rockies-Padres: 10 games between April 2-25
Dodgers-Giants: Scheduled to play 11 games between March 29-April 29 (they'll play 10, as one was rained out)
Diamondbacks-Dodgers: 10 games between April 2-May 3
Phillies-Braves: Nine games from March 29-April 29
Rays-Red Sox: 10 games from March 29-April 29
All division rivals carry recent history over to a new season, and a compressed amount of matchups can dredge up past tensions.
“Typical Yankees-Red Sox game,” Red Sox shortstop Brock Holt said after two on-field incidents Wednesday. “About four hours long. A couple of bench-clearing brawls. We're right on track, here.”
When the dust settled, four were ejected.
The Texas Rangers lost Andrus with a fractured elbow after he was hit by a fastball from hard-throwing reliever Keynan Middleton of the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday night.
Andrus was hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, moments after Angels All-Star center fielder Mike Trout was hit by a Tony Barnette pitch in the top of the ninth.
Asked if Andrus' plunking was related to Trout, Rangers manager Jeff Banister responded, “It's a fair question for you to ask, but I'm not going to speculate on anything like that.”
The Padres and Rockies had been exchanging bean-balls all series. After six hit batters over seven games, the two clubs finally had enough and went to fisticuffs on the field.
“Nolan reacted to a ball thrown behind his head,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He reacted. I'm sure that he felt that that was intentional, and he wasn't going to have it.”
They'll reconvene at Coors Field for Games 8, 9 and 10 of the season series beginning April 23.
Familiarity or not, weather is also a contributing factor for pitchers on the mound. Pitchers have a tough time grasping the ball in colder weather, leading to lesser command of their fastball.
During the Nationals home opener April 5 in Washington in 42-degree temperatures, New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom admitted after the game he had a hard time gripping the baseball, saying “it was slipping out of my hand.”
The Chicago White Sox lead the majors in hit batsmen (12) and are tied for hitting most opposing batters (nine). Their Monday game against the Tampa Bay Rays was delayed because of snow, and game-time temperatures for that series were 35, 43 and 59 degrees.
The only two teams to not hit an opposing batter are the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, who have played all but three of their games in California or at climate-controlled Chase Field.
San Diego has hit just two batters — both Rockies — and of course, the one that missed created the most drama.