When I was doing my article earlier this morning where I talked about the Pirates in the 2013 season (click the link and read it) I touched on Starling Marte. What I basically did (why haven't you clicked and read it yet?) was go through a bunch of players/situations and put them down as good or bad. When I came to Marte I couldn't put him in either so I put him in good AND bad. Easy enough, right? Well, no. The reason he was in the bad was that he wasn't very good at getting on base. He did have a .343 on base percentage but he only walked 25 times the entire season. What he did rely on was getting hit by 24 pitches which were the second most in the league this season. That brings up the question which is how much can we rely on getting hit by pitches? Is it something that you can count on year-over-year or is this something that probably isn't going to happen next season? Well after I published the almost 4,000 words I started thinking about it. In one corner I see how the ability of getting hit by inside pitches could be something that could be replicated. In the other corner a good part of me thinks that stuff like this happens but probably not as much as you think and it would be foolish to rely on that for a good chunk of your on base percentage. Well, since I had nothing to do today I started doing some research.
First what I did was take the top-10 players that were hit by a pitch from the years 2000-2013. Why did I pick those years? I have no idea. It seemed like a good number and it would give me a good bit of data to look at and sift through. I obviously didn't want do this over 25 or 30 years because I want to drink a few beers today and not spend 12 hours looking at year-by-year hit by pitch data. Anyways, here are the top-10 players who were hit by pitches from 2000-2013:
1) Jason Kendall - 165
2) Chase Utley - 156
3) Jason Giambi - 153
4) Alex Rodriguez - 145
5) David Eckstein - 143
6) Craig Biggio - 132
7) Derek Jeter - 128
8) Carlos Delgado - 126
9) Aaron Rowand - 126
10) Reed Johnson - 125
So that is where I started. Next I wanted to get an idea of how often it happens that a player, no matter who, gets 20 or more times in a season. Based on what we have see so far from Marte he would probably need to be in that 20 or more category in order for those to even come close to making up for the lack of walks. What I found was that over the years of 2000-2013 was that in those years 30 times a player has been hit by 20 or more pitches and the most that it has ever occured in any one season (during that time frame) is four times which happened three different times (2001, 2007, 2010). In the past three seasons (2011-2013) it has only happened twice and both of those came this year with Marte and Shin-Soo Choo both had more than 20 hit by pitches.
So, all told over the last 14 seasons an average of a little more than two players are getting hit 20 or more times in a season. In that list of the top-10 players here is how many times they appeared on the top-10 in individual seasons and in parenthesis is how many times they appeared in the top five, and top three. Also at the end I put how many seasons that each of these players had 400 or more plate appearances to put their numbers in some sort of context. 400 plate appearances it pretty arbitrary and it seemed like a good number for me.
1) Jason Kendall - 7 (5,4) - 11
2) Chase Utley - 5 (5,3) - 8
3) Jason Giambi - 5 (3,3) - 9
4) Alex Rodriguez - 5 (1,1) - 13
5) David Eckstein - 4 (2,1) - 9
6) Craig Biggio - 5 (3,2) - 8
7) Derek Jeter - 2 (0,0) - 13
8) Carlos Delgado - 5 (2,0) - 9
9) Aaron Rowand - 5 (2,1) - 6
10) Reed Johnson - 1 (1,1) - 4
So what you come to see here is that in the number of seasons that each of the players in the top-10 got a significant amount of plate appearances they are only coming in the top-10 of individual seasons about half of their seasons (49%). They are only coming in the top-5 about 27% of the time and as we saw above there are, at most, four guys a year over this span where they get hit 20 times or more.
You might be wondering how many times each of these players had seasons where they were hit 20 times or more. Well, here it is (first number is number of 20+ hit by pitch seasons and the second number is years of 400+ PA):
1) Jason Kendall - 2 - 11
2) Chase Utley - 3 - 8
3) Jason Giambi - 2 - 9
4) Alex Rodriguez - 1 - 13
5) David Eckstein - 2 - 9
6) Craig Biggio - 2 - 8
7) Derek Jeter - 0 - 13
8) Carlos Delgado - 0 - 9
9) Aaron Rowand - 1 - 6
10) Reed Johnson - 1 - 4
So really it doesn't happen all that often. It comes out to about 16% of the time. When you are Marte do you want to rely on 16%? Of these players Kendall has a span where he ranked in the top three in consecutive years (2003-05) and Chase Utley led the league in three straight years (2007-09) while finishing in the top five from 2006-2010. Craig Biggio finished in the top five from 2001-2003 and that about wraps it up.
When I started I wanted to see if this was something that was sustainable and something that maybe Marte can rely on going forward. I found out that it probably wasn't. He could maybe get hit by 20+ pitches a few times in his career but from a small breakdown of 14 years it doesn't give you a good feeling about his chances of relying on hit by pitches to supplement the lack of ability to take close pitches.
Granted this is somewhat of a small sample size. But, when you consider that these players led the entire league in getting hit and would be considered some of the "best" at it they weren't all that successful in sustaining that at the top of the league. Marte can rely on a high batting average on balls in play because he has speed but I don't think it would be very responsible for him, or us, to rely on him getting on base by getting hit.