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.