PHOENIX – Guys on the mound in Major League Baseball can see their throws measured in different ways, whether it’s spin speed, speed, or angle in the hitting zone. The goal is simple: find ways to throw the baseball at home plate in the most violent and unpredictable way possible.
Lately it’s been causing a lot of pain for the hitters – literally.
MLB pitchers are hitting batters and throwing more wild fields than at any time since 1900, according to baseball-reference.com. When baseballs are flying at hitters at 95 mph or more, it can obviously be very dangerous.
Just ask Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper, who took a 97 mph fastball to the face in April. Fortunately, he was not seriously injured.
“We raised guys in a world of speed,” said Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly. “We have to throw harder, you have to get more spin speed – guys are trying to get more all the time. When you do that, you sacrifice the precision of what you are doing.”
The number of hitters hit by a pitch, as well as wild shots, have increased steadily over the past decade. Teams are affected at a rate of 0.47 times per game in 2021, compared to 0.32 in 2011. Wild fields have fallen from 0.40 to 0.40 instead of 0.32 over the same period.
The reasons for the trend towards the wild side are varied. The pitchers certainly throw as hard as ever, and brittle balls in the dirt are difficult for receivers to block.
Stephen Vogt, a veteran Arizona Diamondbacks wide receiver, said the pitching philosophy has changed dramatically over his 15 years in professional baseball. The low, efficient outside turn pitch – think what former Atlanta Braves ace Greg Maddux perfected in the 1990s – isn’t as effective anymore.
“If you throw it out, you’re going to be run over,” Vogt said. “You have to be able to hit that inside corner.”
Mattingly agreed with Vogt, saying the scans had played into the trend for more successful hitters. The numbers indicate that hard pitchers who can hit high and tight points in the strike zone are going to be very successful.
“Basically the top of that box, inside a right-hander or a left-hander, is one of those pitches where it’s really hard to do anything with it,” Mattingly said. “So if you can hit that corner, inside of a left-hander or a right-hander, it’s an out or a strike. And when it’s missing, he runs you like a batter.
“This is where you see guys getting hit a lot.”
It’s also true that retaliation isn’t as common in gaming today. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo played in the 1980s and 1990s, and he said too many hitters around this time would often lead to problems.
“I don’t want to look like the old cowboy here, but it was an eye for an eye,” Lovullo said. “If a guy got hit you can be sure someone on his team was going to get hit, depending on who it was.
“I don’t necessarily believe in that philosophy. I don’t think a lot of managers believe it in today’s game. No one is intentionally trying to hit someone.”
Lovullo said not all the blame could be placed on the pitchers. Hitters don’t always hesitate to claim real estate near the strike zone.
“The guys are on home plate, they want to throw the ball on the pull side,” said the manager. “As a result, they clutter up the plate with less space, and I think the throws are slipping off and clipping guys.”