This season, Anthony Rizzo has obliterated 30 baseballs into the seats for home runs. As of last night, in perfect symmetry, 30 baseballs have exacted revenge for their wounded brothers by hitting Anthony Rizzo. This is a rare accomplishment. Is this an accomplishment? This is a rare accomplishment.
Until now, only one player had ever before reached that particular 30/30 threshold — Don Baylor, in 1986. That year, he knocked 31 dingers, and was hit 35 times. Over his career, he hit hundreds of homers. And he was hit by hundreds of pitches. He’s fitting company. If you want to make Rizzo more special, he’s also exceeded 30 doubles, which Baylor didn’t, so now by those terms Rizzo is the first-ever 30/30/30 player. Anyhow, going back to the original 30/30 terms, if you loosen the restrictions, there have only ever been six 25/25 player seasons. In 2004, Craig Wilson slugged 29 homers, and was slugged by 30 pitches. He came painfully close to belonging in the Baylor/Rizzo tier. Maybe that year he was robbed of a home run. I don’t know, so I’ll pretend, to aid the narrative. Craig Wilson: almost historic. Too bad.
Rizzo, of course, has picked up on the hit-by-pitch frequency. It’s hard not to notice an uptick in getting hit by baseballs. His stated preference would be to stop getting hit by baseballs so much, but he hasn’t been convinced to change anything about his behavior, so this is just a thing that’s going to happen. He’s gotten pretty good about taking these things in stride, and yesterday, after he was hit for the 30th time, he smiled at his own dugout, which isn’t how people ordinarily respond to abuse.
Oh, sure, he’s been mad about getting hit sometimes, but he’s not that much of a jawer. He understands that these bruises come with the territory, and he knows pitchers are usually just trying to establish the inner bit of the plate. Without intent, it’s just a mistake, but what a series of mistakes. To put Rizzo’s season in additional perspective, I pulled some FanGraphs data stretching back to 2002. For each individual season, I took all the qualified hitters, and I calculated z-scores for their rates of home runs per pitch, and their rates of hit-by-pitches per pitch. Below, Rizzo’s 2015 is obviously highlighted.
It’s the right-most point in the plot. The home runs are present, but by no means exceptional. The hit-by-pitches are exceptional. A simpler way to think about this, if you’re not a fan of mentally processing z-scores: Rizzo leads baseball by having been hit 30 times. The guy in second place is at 21. Third place is a two-way tie at 17. Rizzo is blowing the competition away. There’s no ongoing race for the hit-by-pitch title — it’s Rizzo’s, and it’s been Rizzo’s for an awful long time.
Rizzo’s power is nothing new. That’s been his selling point, even going back to his performance in the minor leagues. If you were thinking about him before the year as a 30/30 threat, the homers would almost be a given. The hit-by-pitches are the real surprise, superficially. Rizzo’s been an everyday player three years in a row. Between 2013 and 2014, he more than doubled his hit-by-pitch rate. Between 2014 and 2015, he’s doubled it again. Usually, players don’t double statistical rates without a good explanation. This one’s easy to explain. Rizzo batting in 2013:
Rizzo batting in 2014:
And Rizzo batting in 2015:
He’s moved much closer to the plate, where now his back foot is touching the inner chalk line of the box. It would be hard to crowd the plate any more while staying within the boundaries of the official rules. Moving closer has been a conscious decision on Rizzo’s part, and that’s one of the reasons he can’t get too mad about the beanballs — in a way, he’s brought this on himself. If he wanted them to stop that bad, he could back away. He’s not backing away, so, that’s effectively a green light.
The biggest change happened between 2013 and 2014. I don’t know how much of a difference there is between the last two years, in terms of Rizzo’s stance, but some of the increase could just be randomness. And there’s also the matter of Rizzo now being firmly established, so he’s the most likely Cub to be targeted for hit-by-pitch retaliation. Rizzo counts as a big-time vet now. So that’s another little boost to his numbers. He’s allowed to protest the intentional beanballs. The others, he should and does just take.
Over the three years, pitchers have only slightly moved away from Rizzo. In 2013, they threw 15% of their pitches inside, off the plate. This year, they’re a hair over 13%. They don’t want to lose that side of the plate, so, again, hit-by-pitches are going to happen as a consequence. Where has Rizzo been hit? Baseball Savant can help with this. Here’s a screenshot of Rizzo’s stance:
Now let’s fold in the balls that’ve hit him with some really terrible attempted photoshop:
There’s activity almost everywhere, but, thankfully, nothing doing above the shoulders. You get a bit of knee and shin action, but it’s more concentrated about Rizzo’s elbow, which also means his back assuming he turns away. Headshots aside, the greatest risk of a hit-by-pitch is getting struck in the hand, but to this point Rizzo’s been more or less able to avoid that. So he gets his bruises — it’s impossible not to get bruised — but he can protect himself from fractures. Getting hit a lot guarantees pain, but it doesn’t guarantee stints on the DL.
Since this post began by talking about hit-by-pitches and home runs, let’s also mix in the dingers:
The colors are obnoxiously similar but just by thinking for half of one second you should be able to figure out which of those dots were one base and which were four. By standing close to the plate, Rizzo allows himself to extend his hitting zone away, but that doesn’t mean he’s vulnerable in. He’s currently posting a career-high slugging percentage against pitches inside from the middle of the plate. He can cover almost everywhere, which is most of what makes him so dangerous.
Without showing photographic evidence, I can just tell you Rizzo stands closer than his other left-handed Cubs teammates. Kyle Schwarber looks similar, but he’s still a few inches back, and that can make all the difference. To close out, here are this season’s left-handed hit-by-pitches, with Rizzo in black and the others in light gray:
It’s not like Rizzo is way closer than everybody else. It really is just a matter of inches. But you can see most of the black dots a little closer to the plate than the rest of the dots. You get an image of where Rizzo stands, and you get an image of where the average lefty stands. It all makes sense. In this way, hit-by-pitch totals are highly predictable. All you need to know is a guy’s stance, and how willing he is to chase soft stuff away. Or, anything that tells you how a hitter is likely to be pitched. Mostly, it’s the stance.
I mentioned earlier that Rizzo leads baseball in hit-by-pitches, 30 to 21. The player with 21 is Brandon Guyer, and Guyer has seen half as many pitches as Rizzo has. Guyer, then, is even more extraordinary in his getting-hit-a-lot-ness, but Guyer’s also hit just eight home runs. One day, maybe he’ll get his own post. But today belongs to Rizzo — not because he excels in one category, but because he excels in an unlikely pair.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.