Part of growing up is realizing that some no-hitters aren’t necessarily great pitching performances. Try telling an eight-year-old that the six-walk no-hitter she’s watching is less impressive than a one-hit, no-walk shutout and she’ll look at you like you’re from another planet. If you explain that same thing to an adult, she probably won’t turn off the TV, but will probably concede you have a point. No-hitters have a magic that transcends the actual logic of the achievement. That’s perfectly fine, of course, as one’s enjoyment of an event doesn’t need to correlate precisely with it’s degree of difficulty.
But it’s worth considering why the no-hitter is magical. Most of it is probably the name and the history, but I’ll propose another reason: it’s a razor’s edge accomplishment. In other words, as soon as the pitcher allows a hit, the entire thing is over. When Barry Bonds was chasing Hank Aaron, if he failed to hit a home run, there would always be another chance. If a batter falls below .400, he can always bring his average back up. When you’re dealing with an accomplishment based on a zero, everything is exciting because it could be gone at any moment.
This is why I was so interested in Chase Utley‘s no-double play season. Every single plate appearance mattered. Well, in preparing last week’s post on Derek Dietrich’s elite ability to get hit with the baseball, I noticed another zero-based accomplishment that’s pretty extraordinary: Coco Crisp hasn’t been hit by a pitch in more than five years.
To find Crisp’s last hit by pitch, you have to go all the way back to May 9, 2011 — which, for Crisp, was 2,724 plate appearances ago. He’s been something just less than a full-time player over that span and he hasn’t been hit once. For context, were a batter to get hit at a league-average rate over that time period, you would expecting something like 24 HBP. The player who’s amassed the second-longest stretch since Crisp’s last HBP is Nick Punto at 862 plate appearances. Sure, there are players who’ve been hit merely a few times during that span — meaning their cases aren’t really much different from Crisp’s — but if you’re interested in the zeros, he’s in a class by himself.
The zero itself might be the product of variance, but not getting hit is certainly part of Crisp’s profile. He’s been hit just five times in a career spanning 6,627 PA. In terms of HBP per PA, Crisp has the 23rd-lowest mark since 1901 among players who’ve recorded at least 2,000 career PA.
As an initial caveat, I should note that Crisp is a switch-hitter, meaning he has the platoon advantage during all of his plate appearances. Hit by pitches are more frequent per plate appearance when the pitcher has the platoon advantage (1.07% versus 0.74% of plate appearances), so you would expect Crisp to have a slightly lower HBP rate than a typical hitter, all else equal. But obviously Crisp’s mark is much lower than average so he remains an interesting case.
In the context of hit-by-pitch streak, every Crisp plate appearance becomes an event. If and when a pitcher hits him next, Crisp will vanish from the hasn’t-been-hit-in-forever leaderboard, forced to start all over from the beginning. The streak could vanish on Opening Day or he could retire with it intact. News could be made at any moment.
In preparation for this season’s Coco Crisp viewing parties (really, no one?), I have prepared a look at some of the near misses in recent years. There’s no exact method for finding these cases, as some of it depends on where he stands and how the pitch moves, but I’ve used PITCHf/x to isolate a few cases where the ball crossed the plate in the general area where a person would be standing and have then reviewed the tape to bring you these examples.
September 2, 2012
June 21, 2014
April 21, 2016
May 17, 2016
June 21, 2016
September 26, 2016
Given the unlikeliness of his streak, it makes sense to wonder what’s unique to Crisp. His main quirk is probably how he buries his chin into his front shoulder. Perhaps there’s something about his stance that gives him an early warning? As we saw in the Dietrich piece last week, some hitters use that awareness to get hit more often. Perhaps Crisp has elected to use his vision in the opposite way? No one would blame Crisp if he chose not to lean in and risk injury.
Another important factor is likely that pitchers generally pitch Crisp away, and it’s hard to get hit if most of the pitches are on the other side of the plate. From the left side:
From the right side:
Cleveland didn’t pick up Crisp’s 2017 option, so we still don’t know where he’ll be playing this year. It makes sense that the club didn’t want him for $13 million, but there’s definitely still potential for him as a role player for plenty of teams. He still has decent command of the zone and some moderate power. He’s not going to be an asset in the field, but a team looking for an experienced player who can split time between corner outfield and DH could do a lot worse than Crisp, even if his main draw at this point is his remarkable ability to never get hit.
Neil Weinberg is the Site Educator at FanGraphs and can be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.