This post is not about the ongoing playoffs. I wanted to give fair warning to those that are only concerned with that. I did draw inspiration from the playoffs however. I was watching the Tigers-Rangers game during the curious third inning hit by pitch and went to the internet to see if it mattered that the pitch hit the dirt first before the player* when I began researching players proficient at finding their way on base via the plunk.
*it does not seem to matter according to second-hand sources, but could not find that outlined in the official rule book
When discussing players that get hit by pitches, Craig Biggio’s name is typically among the first to come forth, or possibly Don Baylor depending on the age of the people involved in the conversation. Neither of them interested me however when it comes to plunkings though and for the same reason. Both Biggio and Baylor had large strikeout and walk totals to go with their painful free passes.
In contrast, consider Ron Hunt. A second baseman during the expansion era, Hunt made a couple All Star games but otherwise made little dent in baseball history, except in being hit by pitches. Ron Hunt was hit 50 times in 1971, which destroyed the previous record by a whopping 19. That number is made more interesting to me by Hunt’s 58 walks and his 41 strikeouts. He was hit more often than he struck out! That’s an incredibly rare, if not, unprecedented achievement over a full season. Hunt’s 50 times reaching base via getting hit accounted for almost 20% of his OBP. If, somehow, all 50 of those had been outs instead, Hunt’s OBP would have been 80 points lower.
While 1971 was the clear pinnacle, it was by no means unique for Hunt who led the league in HBPs for seven straight seasons despite usually playing only about 120 games a year. Past the Hughie Jennings era, nobody has a higher HBP per game rate than Hunt though two recent players, F.P. Santangelo and Carlos Quentin, do have slightly higher HBP/PA rates over shorter careers. Quentin’s might be difficult to keep up now that HBPs have stopped their mid-2000s climb.
Over Hunt’s career he ended up with 243 HBPs, 555 walks and just 382 strikeouts. Hit by pitches accounted for over 20%. Only Fernando Vina has managed to have a similar combination of the three, though he had many fewer walks and played during a time (the “Steroid era”) that had about 60% more HBPs than Hunt’s mid-60s to mid-70s time frame. Overall, I’m not sure that contextually, there a player that made a bigger use of getting hit than Ron Hunt.