Home runs. People love them! And people love them when they happen a bunch. Giancarlo Stanton has, during his career, hit four home runs in a row. Carlos Gonzalez has also hit four home runs in a row. It’s a crazy-good achievement, pulled off only a couple dozen times. There have been about as many such home-run streaks as there have been perfect games. Everyone loves a home-run streak or a perfect game.
Part of the appeal of something like that is the individual-accomplishment aspect. A pitcher can’t be better than perfect, and homering all the time would be the hitter equivalent. But don’t forget about the related matter of scarcity. We all also fall all over ourselves when we see something that never happens. Think about what it means for a baseball event to be rare. And I mean ultra-rare. There is so much baseball, all of the time. Every season involves an unnecessarily large number of baseball games, for even the most forgettable and pointless of rosters. Baseball is nothing but an endless series of repetitions. An endless number of opportunities for strange things to happen. As a consequence, many strange things have already happened, even several times. You’d never expect a perfect game. The overwhelming majority of us have probably watched perfect games, if maybe not all the way through.
Between Sunday and Monday, Josh Harrison batted seven times. The first two times, he grounded out. The seventh time, he grounded out. In between, he was hit, then he was hit, then he was hit, and then he was hit.
We’ll pick it up Sunday. Here’s Harrison facing Jon Lester in the seventh inning:
Nothing weird, and clearly no intent. Batters get hit on the leg. Sometimes pitches run too much. Here’s Harrison facing Justin Grimm in the ninth inning:
Again, it’s not like Grimm did this on purpose. He was already ahead in the count 0-and-1. He wanted to throw an inside pitch, and in a way, he succeeded! But Harrison’s leg got in the way of what might’ve been a brushback, and so Harrison advanced to first, with something of a grimace. In the video above, it’s Josh Harrison who gets hit first, but it’s Willson Contreras who seems to experience the greatest level of pain. Don’t play baseball. Moving on to Monday, here’s Harrison facing Lance Lynn in the second inning:
This is probably when things got bizarre. Not because there was anything out of the ordinary with the play itself, because it was just a low and inside fastball, but because this made three straight hit-by-pitches. The Cardinals had no reason to be aware of that, but Harrison’s left leg sure as hell did. Which finally brings us to Harrison facing Lynn in the fourth inning:
Harrison had been hit four straight times. Four straight times. Lynn was responsible for just two of those. But looking at that clip, it’s Lynn who appears to be the most upset. To Harrison’s credit, he just moved along without incident, even going for a jog to try to stave off a form of living rigor mortis. You don’t want an injured leg to stiffen up.
Getting hit by a pitch is horrible. Getting hit by anything is horrible. One time I got a headache because of an acorn that fell out of a tree. Not only do hit-by-pitches get the emotions running, but they also just do physical damage. I try not to have too much fun with sports highlights that result in an injured player. In this case, however, we’re all in the clear to find enjoyment in this, because Harrison and Francisco Cervelli give their permission.
Let me just-
Right, so, everything’s fine. It’s hilarious. Josh Harrison came to the plate four times, and, all four times, he reached base, which is good, but he reached base with a new bruise on his leg, which is…still good, but less good than preferred. I bet Harrison would’ve liked four clean singles, or even four ordinary four-ball walks. I’m certain you know in your head this is extraordinary. But just how extraordinary? Complete play-by-play data exists going back to 1974. Here’s an excerpt from the Pirates broadcast:
No major-league player, since at least 1974 — not just the Pirates — but no major-league player has been hit by pitches in four straight plate appearances. Anthony Rizzo the last to be hit by pitches in three straight plate appearances.
Nobody else. More than 40 years of baseball, and, if we can believe this, nobody else has been hit four consecutive times. Hit-by-pitches are uncommon. They’re plenty more uncommon than home runs. And remember, this is since at least 1974. We don’t know about before that. We could guess. Harrison might’ve just become the first ever. If not that, he’d be one of maybe two or three or four players in the whole history of the sport.
In part, it’s about Harrison, and in part, it’s about the pitchers. That’s pretty obvious. It’s the same way with a home-run streak — the hitters need the pitchers to throw home-run pitches. There should be no mystery why Harrison got drilled — look at his front leg. Look at how close he steps to the plate:
Just for fun, was there any change in Harrison’s stance going into yesterday’s final at-bat?
There was not. Harrison stood in the same spot, in no way deterred. After you’ve gotten plunked four times, who even cares about a fifth? It’s not like he had feeling in his leg anyway. No better time to take another one. Alas, Harrison put a ball in play, snapping what might’ve been an unprecedented streak. Everything dies.
If a streak like this had to happen, you wouldn’t think it would be Harrison in the middle of it. I looked at everyone who batted at least 1,000 times between 2007 and 2016. That gave me a sample of 564 players. The average player was hit in 0.89% of his plate appearances. Harrison ranks 119th, at 1.24%. You know the name up top — that’s Brandon Guyer, at 6.15%. On a rate basis, compared to Harrison, Guyer has been hit five times as often. So, compared to Harrison, Guyer’s odds of getting hit four plate appearances in a row are more than 600 times higher. This is what Guyer does all the time:
It’s like Harrison, but worse. Guyer stands on the freaking chalk. It’s no wonder he wears so many baseballs. But sometimes Philip Humber throws a perfect game, and Clayton Kershaw doesn’t. The most likely player isn’t always the actual player, and Guyer’s smallest gap has been nine plate appearances. In August 2015, Guyer got hit four times in a stretch of nine chances. He’s also had a run of four in 11, and two runs of four in 12. Harrison, before this year, had never been hit four times in a stretch shorter than 92 chances. He just finished a clean four out of four. It’s…breathtaking?
Harrison has been hit six times in the young season. The leads the major leagues. Is he just doing something different? Is Harrison trying to get hit? Here’s a screenshot from the middle of 2016:
Still with the step. But maybe the foot’s a little further away. Maybe the knee is a little less bent. Why don’t we examine all of Harrison’s career hit-by-pitches?
I’ll buy that. Harrison, at no time, has been hit by a good pitch. They’ve all been very inside, all of them missing their targets. But Harrison might now be crowding the plate more than he used to. It would be only a matter of a few inches, but that can make a significant difference, given how pitches tend to be crowded nearer to the strike zone. Harrison might be standing a bit closer. Or, he might just not be bailing out of the way. Those recent hit-by-pitches are closer than most. And so Harrison has a .378 OBP.
And he got hit in four straight plate appearances. It’s never going to happen to him again. The chances are just too low. But it’s not something that ever happens to anyone. It happened to Josh Harrison. History was made, and Harrison’s leg will show the evidence for probably the next month and a half.
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.