Congratulations/Sorry, Josh Harrison

Josh Harrison leads the majors in times getting hit by a pitch. He led the majors in April, and after a down month in May, he’s led the majors since the start of June. In June itself, Harrison was hit 10 times, which is tied for the second-most for any player in any month in baseball history. Back in April, Harrison got hit four times in a row. Harrison has nearly as many hit-by-pitches as walks, which is both good and bad, I suppose. Harrison is sitting on a career-best OBP.

Usually, when we’ve talked about hit-by-pitches, we’ve been talking about Brandon Guyer. It is, technically, a skill that some hitters can possess, typically because of their stances. The twist for Harrison is that he hasn’t been a pitch magnet in the past. He’s been drilled 20 times this season. He was drilled 26 times before this season. Shown in graphical form:

That’s a leap forward this season, depending on what your definition of “forward” is. Here now is a plot of Harrison’s career hit-by-pitches, separated by year:

The evidence suggests that Harrison has moved a little closer to the plate. Which, yeah; I can’t come up with any reasonable alternative explanation. He’s standing a little closer, and he closes himself off with his front leg. By which I mean, Harrison raises his leg with a standard kick, and then he steps forward in the box. He’s standing closer to the plate, and then he steps closer to the plate. This is where hit-by-pitches come from, since it’s not like there is just a sudden rash of opposing pitchers who are holding a Josh Harrison-specific grudge.

Here’s the kicker. Harrison, a year ago, was hit in about 1% of his plate appearances. Harrison, this year, has been hit in about 5% of his plate appearances. That seems like a big increase, but how much of an increase is it, really? I went all the way back to 1900. I looked at every player who’s ever batted at least 250 times in consecutive seasons. Here are the biggest year-to-year jumps in HBP%:

Changes in HBP Rate, 1900 – 2017
Player Year 1 Year 2 Y1 HBP% Y2 HBP% Change
Josh Harrison 2016 2017 1.0% 5.3% 4.3%
F.P. Santangelo 1996 1997 2.4% 5.7% 3.3%
Dave Altizer 1908 1909 0.6% 3.5% 2.9%
George Burns 1923 1924 0.0% 2.8% 2.8%
Jack Barry 1915 1916 1.5% 4.3% 2.8%
Kelly Shoppach 2008 2009 2.7% 5.5% 2.8%
Brandon Guyer 2015 2016 6.2% 9.0% 2.8%
Devin Mesoraco 2013 2014 0.0% 2.7% 2.7%
Josh Phelps 2002 2003 1.0% 3.8% 2.7%
Bill Freehan 1966 1967 0.6% 3.2% 2.7%

Okay then. For now, No. 1, and by a full percentage point over F.P. Santangelo. There’s more season to play, so Harrison isn’t totally locked in here, but as he plays in more games, he’s likely to get hit by more pitches. I’m sorry, Josh Harrison. I’m sorry for the painful, helpful free bases. Although I guess it’s as much Harrison’s fault as anyone else’s. To this point, he’s refused to back off.

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.

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Moving closer to the plate is probably the biggest help/detriment to getting more HBP, but I think another (and more skill oriented) adjustment that players can make is to stop instinctually trying to move away from inside pitches. While umpires are free to call a HBP not one because the batter failed to get out of the pitch’s way, I think/recall only seeing that happen once.

I imagine it’s hard for any tracking system to determine how much a player moves away on inside pitches. Still, if there’s a skill to be taught, it’s for players to suck it up more and take inside pitches off the body for the free base. that said, I suppose there’s an argument to be made in the era of spike in homeruns that players with power (not really Harrison) shouldn’t just “concede” an at-bat to a HBP.


Jason Kendall wasn’t awarded 1B after a HBP once. He was furious. He was always furious, though.