Gibson, Tavarez and Hitting Batters

Brian Walton looks at historical data to help draw conclusions about a couple of Cardinal pitchers who regularly hit batters with pitches, or so we think.

Earlier this month, when New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza was beaned by a pitch fired by St. Louis Cardinals reliever Julian Tavarez, I published a story in which I gave Tavarez no break, primarily based on his long past record of disciplinary problems and specifically, hitting batters.

Several readers pointed out that the greatest Cardinals pitcher ever, Bob Gibson, considered drilling batters a necessary and important part of his job description – at least the ones who got too comfortable at the plate, anyway. Gibson, recently named by Fox' "The Sports List" as the most intimidating pitcher of all time, was often quoted as saying that he would knock down his grandma if she dug in on him. At least that is the legend.

There is no doubt that Gibson pitched in another era, one before body armor swung the pendulum of protection strongly in the direction of the hitter. Yet, looking at number of batters hit by pitches over time provides some interesting comparisons.

Bottom line, it seems that Gibson was able to intimidate without hitting an inordinate number of batters, while Tavarez just hits a lot of them – an awful lot of them.

The only way I would attempt an analysis such as this is through the use of the "Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia". This creation, orderable via CD from Lee Sinins at www.baseball-encyclopedia.com, is an indispensable tool for undertaking any baseball historical research, especially those that include rankings. Sinins is now accepting orders for his next edition, which includes the entire 2005 season, and will ship the 2004 version to whet your appetite in the interim. It comes highly recommended.

For purposes of this work, I used Sinins' numbers through 2004 and added 2005 actuals. I had to remove all very early ballplayers from the analysis, specifically those who played pre-1900, as they pitched before counts of batters faced were kept.

As you will see, I used two key data elements for this analysis – number of batters faced (BF) and number of batters hit by pitches (HBP). I used those to calculate "HBP Per 1000", or the rate of batters hit per 1000 batters faced.

Due to space limitations, the full Top 20 lists are not reproduced in the body of this story. However, they are available to insider subscribers to www.thestlcardinals.com by clicking the link below each table.

Active Pitchers - Hit by Pitches – Career
Let's start with career numbers for those pitchers active in the major leagues today. Following is the Top 20, ranked by number of batters hit. Not surprisingly, the leaders are all starting pitchers, who simply toss a lot of innings. In the process, they are bound to hit some batters.

In fact, every single name on the career Top 20 list is that of a starting pitcher – except one. Guess who? Yep, none other than Julian Tavarez.

 

Active career thru 09/25/05

Tot HBP

Tot BF

HBP

Per 1000

  1.  

Randy Johnson                

168

14752

11.39

  1.  

Roger Clemens               

150

19340

7.76

20.

Julian Tavarez                

78

4731

16.49

Complete Top 20 list: Active career Top 20 link

Now, we'll take another look at this in terms of number of hit batters per 1000 hitters faced. That removes the bias toward starters, with this ranking instead looking at the frequency of the occurrence.

 

Active career thru 09/25/05

Tot HBP

Tot BF

HBP

Per 1000

  1.  

Scott Sullivan               

60

3146

19.07

  1.  

Jeff Nelson                    

64

3387

18.90

8.

Julian Tavarez                

78

4731

16.49

Complete Top 20 list: Active career Top 20 frequency link

In this view, many of the starters drop down the list considerably. In fact, Randy Johnson, noted above as the active MLB leader in batters hit by pitches, barely made the Top 20. In their places are a number of relievers, led by Scott Sullivan and Jeff Nelson. Over his career, Sullivan has hit just over 19 of every 1000 batters faced. Tavarez sits at #8, at 16.49.

Cardinals Career Marks - Hit by Pitches
Let's shift the analysis to the St. Louis Cardinals, specifically starting with all pitchers. These counts include their numbers as Cardinals only, post-1900, and are sorted by number of batters hit.

 

Career Cards thru 09/25/05

Tot HBP

Tot BF

HBP

Per 1000

  1.  

Bob Gibson         

102

16068

6.35

  1.  

Jesse Haines                 

57

13624

4.18

  1.  

Bill Doak                   

54

9908

5.45

Complete Top 20 list: Career Cards Top 20 link

Seeing Gibson's name at the top of the list is expected. He plunked almost twice as many batters than the next-closest on the list, Hall of Famer Jesse "Pop" Haines, who excelled for the Redbirds from 1920 through 1937.

However, for those who think today's armored era means that hit-by-pitch counts are abnormally going through the roof, look again. Only four of the Top 20 have played for the team in the last 17 years, led by Matt Morris, who has hit 48 batters and counting. (Note: Morris hit #49 of his career in the fifth inning Tuesday night.)

Now, let's look at the rate of batters hit by Cardinals pitchers on a career basis with the team. To avoid small sample sizes, only the top 75 pitchers in terms of HBP counts were included. That took the list down to those who hit 14 or more batters in their years as a Cardinal.

 

Cardinals Career (through 09/25/05)

Tot HBP

Tot BF

HBP

Per 1000

  1.  

Julian Tavarez

14

526

26.62

  1.  

Jakie May  (1917-21)          

37

1755

21.08

  1.  

Mike O'Neill  (1901-04)            

27

1582

17.07

  1.  

Darryl Kile                

32

2280

14.04

  1.  

Garrett Stephenson           

30

2181

13.76

36.

Bob Gibson

102

16068

6.35

Complete Top 20 list: Career Cards Top 20 frequency link

While there are some unfamiliar names on this list, one clearly stands out above all others.

In his just-less-than two years as a Cardinal, Julian Tavarez has really made his mark as the hittingest Redbird pitcher of all time. In fact, he has made 14 marks, as that is the number of hitters he has plunked during his short, but eventful time wearing the birds-on-the-bat.

Darryl Kile and Garrett Stephenson made the top five, but were roughly half as likely to hit a batter as Cardinals than Tavarez. Note that Tavarez' rate of hitting batters as a member of this team is substantially higher than his career average – 26.6 versus 14.5. What has been so dramatically different over the last two years of Tavarez' career compared to his first eleven that could explain this huge variation?

Note that if Tavarez had been a Cardinal his entire career and his stats remained constant, that 14.5 mark would still place him as the team's pitcher with the highest hit batter rate in the last eighty years and third overall in the team's post-1900 history.

The most intimidating pitcher of all-time, Bob Gibson, must have found a way to make his hit batters count, as plunked them at less than a quarter of Tavarez' Cardinal rate (6.35 vs. 26.62) and less than half Tavarez' career rate.

All-Time – Hit by Pitches (post-1900) – Career
Continuing the historical context, let's look at the all-time list and see where our heroes (and anti-heroes) stack up.

 

MLB Career (through 09/25/05)

Tot HBP

Tot BF

HBP

Per 1000

  1.  

Walter Johnson             

203

23749

8.55

  1.  

Eddie Plank         

196

18225

10.75

  1.  

Charlie Hough              

174

16170

10.76

  1.  

Randy Johnson                

168

14752

11.39

44.

Bob Gibson

102

16068

6.35

Complete Top 20 list: Career Top 20 link

There are five active players on this list, including Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Kevin Brown, Tim Wakefield and Greg Maddux.

Other famous "intimidation" pitchers from past eras, players such as Don Drysdale, and Nolan Ryan, have career HBP numbers roughly 50% higher than Gibson, who ranks only 44th on the all-time list.

This clearly diminishes the argument that Gibson's era was a time when fewer batters were hit. The conclusion I draw is that Gibson created the necessary aura and didn't have to actually follow through as often as others then or since.

Here is the table with the highest rate hit-by-pitch pitchers in the history of the game, post-1900 (minimum 75 hit batters).

 

MLB Career (through 09/25/05)

Tot HBP

Tot BF

HBP

Per 1000

  1.  

Jesse Tannehill  (1894-1911)         

97

3137

30.92

  1.  

Otto Hess  (1912-15)              

83

3531

23.51

  1.  

Jack Warhop  (1908-15)              

114

5729

19.90

  1.  

Jamey Wright                  

104

5857

17.76

  1.  

Cy Morgan (1903-13)                  

95

5497

17.28

  1.  

Kerry Wood                  

80

4692

17.05

  1.  

Jeff Weaver                 

99

5959

16.61

  1.  

Chan Ho Park              

116

7008

16.55

  1.  

Julian Tavarez                

78

4731

16.49

Complete Top 20 list: Career Top 20 frequency link

Four of the top five, as well as certain others in the Top 20, should probably have asterisks by their names, as each played in the early years of the century. During that era, batters faced stats are shaky at best. Though hit by pitch counts are more dependable, the efficiency calculation is inexact as a result.

There are some familiar names on the list, too, including current major leaguers Jamey Wright, Kerry Wood, Jeff Weaver, Chan Ho Park, and yes, our own Mr. Tavarez at number nine with a bullet.

While there are a substantial number of "old-timers" represented, with this level of data, I cannot draw any conclusions about one era versus another having fewer or greater hit batters.

In conclusion
Among all the thousands and thousands of pitchers who have ever taken the mound in a major league baseball contest, Julian Tavarez ranks in the Top Ten in terms of hit batsmen per batter faced; and as a Cardinal, he ranks Numero Uno in the modern era.

I hope Gibson sits down and has a chat with Tavarez about the difference between perception and reality – if Tavarez is still a Cardinal next spring, that is.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net

=================================================
Special limited-time offer - receive 60 issues of the Sporting News plus the 128-page hardcover book "Ozzie Smith: The Road to Cooperstown" included with your one-year subscription to thestlcardinals.com. thestlcardinals.com Total Access Pass(tm)


The Cardinal Nation Top Stories