Graph of the Intermittent Time Period

On Twitter, one of my followers (@Slap_Bet) linked me to the active leaders in hit-by-pitches on Baseball Reference. Although I have long respected Chase Utley‘s ability to get hit, I was surprised to see him at #8 with 125 career bruises, only 47 shy of tying Carlos Delgado in second place. On the career leaderboard, Utley sits in 48th place, tied with Jeff Kent and Honus Wagner.

Due to Utley’s late start — his first full season came at age 26 — it is unlikely he makes it within the top-five but this skill of his hasn’t been recognized the way it had been for Craig Biggio and Jason Kendall. And make no mistake, getting hit by pitches is a legitimate skill. Utley led the National League in HBP for three consecutive years from 2007-09. Biggio did likewise from 1995-97. A scan of the year-by-year leaders yields a lot of repeat leaders as well.

How does Utley compare to two of the more recent HBP champs?

Utley’s three worst seasons came from 2004-06, two of which were partial seasons. He didn’t have quite the “peak” that Kendall had, but is overall very similar in HBP skill.

Interestingly enough, left-handed pitchers hit Utley at approximately twice the rate as right-handers: 5.0 percent to 2.6 percent. His HBP rate has declined since 2007 and in particular the past two years’ HBP rates against lefties have been lower than in ’08:

  • 2008: 14 HBP in 270 PA (5.2 percent)
  • 2009: 8 HBP in 235 PA (3.4 percent)
  • 2010: 8 HBP in 166 PA (4.8 percent)

Lefties have gradually thrown him more and more pitches towards the outside part of the strike zone. Notice the shift on the following heat maps from Baseball Analytics:

Lefties seem to have realized that they can’t pitch Utley inside without risking giving the Phillies a free base runner. While the shift shouldn’t have a drastic effect on Utley’s HBP totals, it is interesting to note how a seemingly benign skill can have a lasting effect on how opposing pitchers approach him.

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7 comments

  1. Richard Hershberger

    February 17, 2011 09:16 AM

    “And make no mistake, getting hit by pitches is a legitimate skill.”

    Testify, brother! It was my main technique for getting on base in Little League.

  2. Bill Baer

    February 17, 2011 09:18 AM

    Mine was hitting pop-ups into the sun.

    True story: In my first year in the teenagers league, I made the paper for hitting a game winning RBI “single” which was just a mile-high pop-up just behind the pitcher’s mound that the infielders lost in the sun.

    My VORP was like -35.

  3. Scott G

    February 17, 2011 10:19 AM

    You really think that pitchers stopped pitching him inside because they’re afraid of hitting him?

    I am relying on memory here, so I could be way off. I definitely remember seeing a spray chart of Utley’s hits with the majority being to RF. I also think his career HR% to left field was something like 3%. Don’t you think they pitch him outside because he’s a pull hitter, and there’s no real fear of his going opposite field on them?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think Utley could probably hit the ball wherever he wants, he’s just that good, but it definitely seems like he’s a pull hitter.

  4. Bill Baer

    February 17, 2011 10:29 AM

    Scott,

    I should have better worded the end. Certainly his propensity to get hit by pitches isn’t the sole factor for the outside pitches for reasons you state.

    Here’s Utley’s spray chart for 2008-10, per Baseball Analytics:

  5. JB Allen

    February 17, 2011 12:29 PM

    Utley should cheat the way Barry Bonds used to . . . with enormous body armor.

  6. Dan

    February 17, 2011 12:53 PM

    I have to agree with Scott. I don’t think the progression of pitching to the outside against Utley is because of his HBP tendencies (although it could contribute), rather than his inexplicable ability to absolutely crush a pitch that is belt-high and inside. Every time Utley is at bat I find myself saying “bet you won’t pitch hit belt-high inside” in hopes that the pitcher will, and I’ll get to see a home run.

    However, it does appear you’ve already cleared this up to Scott, so I’ll let it slide.

    Nice article, got any charts for other HBP machines that don’t (almost exclusively) pull the ball like Utley?

  7. Css228

    February 18, 2011 09:34 AM

    @Dan, fast hands and a short swing and you can hit almost anything. The question is how the hell does he create all that power?

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