No one likes to get hit by a 95-mph fastball, but history has shown us that there are players who are particularly adept at getting plunked, indicating that there is skill involved with standing your ground in the batter’s box. And since it is a skill that can be learned, that learning begins in the minor leagues.
Major League Manipulators
Although one would need to look back to the late-1800s when Hughie Jennings, Dan McGann, and Curt Welch each had multiple seasons with 30 or more hit by pitch to discover the origins of the hard way to get on base, the modern revolution started with one tough man: Ron Hunt. Starting his career in 1963 with the New York Mets, Hunt was plunked 13 times. Only one time in his 12-season career – 1965 when he only appeared in just 57 games – did Hunt fail to get hit by a pitch fewer than ten times. However, in 1968, Hunt began his ascension to the top of the hit-by-pitch heap, leading the league with 25. He would go on to lead baseball over the next six seasons, ending his career in 1974 with a National-League-leading 16. And in 1971, he was drilled an astounding 50 times – the only man in the modern era to reach that milestone.
Hunt was followed by Don Baylor, who led the league in plunkings eight times. Baylor was hit 23 or more times in five seasons with a high water mark of 35, the second-highest modern day total. In 19 MLB seasons, Baylor reached double digits 14 times. Jason Kendall only led the league once – despite being hit 31 times in a season twice – but managed to get hit by ten or more pitches in a dozen of his fifteen seasons, topping 20 five times. Hall of Famer Craig Biggio led the league in HBP in five of his 20 seasons, getting hit 22 or more times in six different years, with a high of 34. And the master of pluck, David Eckstein, led the league in plunks in his first two seasons while reaching double digits in each of his first seven.
These days. the trend continues: Brandon Guyer has been plunked ten or more times in each of his three full seasons, leading the league twice. Anthony Rizzo has already been drilled 13 times in 2017, increasing his double-digit streak to four consecutive. Rizzo led the league with 30 in 2015. Derek Dietrich has also gone to four straight seasons with a dozen plunks and led the NL with two dozen last year.
Minor League non-Movers
Thus far in 2017, only five players have been thumped ten or more times thus far in the five upper tier (AAA/AA) minor league leagues. In the High-A California, Carolina, and Florida State Leagues, 11 men have earned a bruise ten or more times. And in the Full-Season A-Ball leagues, 14 players have been hit at least ten times, with the South Atlantic League having ten and the MidWest League lagging behind with only four.
Upper Tier Thwacks
Todd Cunningham, a 28-year-old outfielder of the Memphis RedBirds, leads the AAA circuits with 13 hit by pitches in 68 games this season. His ascendancy on this list can barely be considered a surprise: it is the fifth time in eight minor league seasons Cunningham has been hit at least ten times, and he has earned 84 plunks in his MiLB career. Cunningham has also been plunked twice in his brief major league appearances. Travis Taijeron of the Las Vegas 51s joins him in double digits with ten, his fourth time reaching that mark in seven minor league seasons.
In Double A, Kevin Kramer leads the Eastern League with a dozen, but it is the first time in his three minor league seasons breaking double digits. Whether it is a skill he is acquiring or a fluke remains to be seen. Jacob Nottingham, leading the Southern League with 11, has shown the skill of plunk in the past, getting hit a total of ten times (for three different teams) in 2015.
But the ball magnet of the minor leagues remains Los Angeles Dodgers second base prospect Tim Locastro, who has been nailed 21 times in the Texas League while with the Tulsa Drillers. For many, being hit 21 times in a season would be the high water mark of their career. For Locastro, the only time he has had fewer was in his debut season of 2013, when he was hit just six times in Short-Season Bluefield. He was hit 32 times each in 2014 and 2015, and was plunked 25 more times last season between AA Tulsa and the High-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Locastro has been drilled an astounding 116 times in his five minor league seasons.
Victor Robles, the hot centerfield prospect of the Washington Nationals, leads the High-A circuits with his 15 plunkings this season. Like Locastro, Robles has been developing his hit by pitch skill since being signed by the Nationals, debuting in the Dominican Summer League with 13 HBPs in 2014. Robles would be re-routed to first after being plunked 21 times in just 61 games in the short-season leagues in 2015 and took first base 34 more times last season after taking a ball off the body.
Ty France only had 12 hit by pitches in his 30 Carolina League games, second in the league to Will Smith’s baker’s dozen. However, he has more than made up for that by being plunked an additional eight times since his promotion to the AA San Antonio Missions. Smith was hit a dozen times in his debut season of 2015 and was thumped an additional 28 times between the Fort Wayne Tin Caps and the Lake Elsinore Storm last year.
Randy Arrozarena is one of three Florida State League players to have been hit 12 times thus far this season. The 22-year-old first showed his ability to stand in against an off target pitch when he was hit 13 times in the Cuba National Series in 2014. Last season in Mexico, he was slammed an additional 14 times. Another of the 12-plunk club, Will Craig, also reached the double digit mark – with 11 – in his first professional season last year.
Max Murphy lost his magic magnet last season, being hit by a pitch just four times after a dozen plunkings in 2015 and 11 thumpings in his debut season of 2014. The magnet has been recalibrated this season, however, as Max has been drilled 11 times thus far in Fort Myers for the Miracles. Ray-Patrick Didder is a veteran at the science of being hit, with his ten this season making him a three-time survivor in the double digit plunk club. Last season with the Rome Braves, Didder was drilled an amazing 39 times.
In Brett Cumberland’s debut last season for the Danville Braves, the young catcher was knocked by a ball 11 times in just 45 games. He has increased his rate of plunk this year as he attempts to catch Didder on the Rome hit-list, getting drilled 25 times in just 55 games. The catching prospect has been promoted recently, however, joining Didder in Fort Myers. He has been hit once in his four games in High-A.
Collin Woody’s first season did not show unique aptitude for the plunking arts, being impacted only five times in 34 games in Aberdeen. However, a move to Delmarva in year two has brought his skills to the surface, with errant balls finding his body 21 times thus far in 2017. The same is true for Hunter Owens, who has tripled his 2016 total of six in his second professional season.
Nick Sinay’s 18 plunkings this season to lead the Midwest League is all the more remarkable as he has accomplished it in just 34 games with the Lansing Lugnuts. His aptitude for being hit is certainly not in question, as Sinay was hit 25 times last season between Bluefield and Vancouver. However, his aptitude with the bat is an open question, as the outfield prospect has garnered only 15 hits (and 19 total bases) this season.
Marcus Mooney is yet another member of the Rome Braves on the list of hit by pitch maestros, with the infielder following the painful footsteps of Didder and Cumberland with 16 HBPs this season. In his debut season of 2016, Mooney was hit 21 times for Danville.
Finally, two great names have been hit an unlucky 13 times in their first full season in A-Ball: Jarett Rindfleisch of the Marlins and Travis Blankenhorn of the Twins have both reached a baker’s dozen in plunkings, hitting the double digit mark for the first times in their short professional careers.
Being hit by a pitch is the most painful way on base for a hitter: Each plunking results in at least a bruise, if not a more serious injury. The Boston Red Sox Dustin Pedroia was hit in the lower back during a game on June 19 against the Houston Astros and had to go for X-rays after coughing up blood. The diminutive second baseman missed the next five days recuperating from the plunking. Standing your ground against any pitch – on target, or off, fastball, or curve – requires toughness and a willingness to sacrifice personal well-being for the good of the team.