I know it’s crying over lost Johnson here, but Blair said something that left a ringing in my ears yesterday.
Stewart’s as capable as Johnson of getting hit by a pitch.
I’m not sure if it’s quite what he meant, but I have encountered the idea roaming around recently (as if it were one of those arcane SABR facts) that players don’t really have any repeatable ability to be hit by pitches more often. Specifically doubt is often heaped on Reed Johnson’s 2006 OBP as being ridiculously inflated because he was gifted the free base by pitchers hitting him much more often, even though that is largely out of the hitter’s control.
That’s not really true. The average player is hit 6-7 times in a season. Reed was hit 21 times in 2006. But that’s the same as his 162 game average for his career (although he was at a slightly faster rate to get there in 30 fewer games), and consistent with his HBP rate over his career (including 2007). Diving over the plate is just as real and for little hacking machines can be just as important and valuable a skill as working a walk.
And an average of 21 is much too big to brush off. Over 650 at bats, that would be 32 points of OBP, which is only slightly less than the difference between a great hitter and league average, or league average and the worst in the league . Even the legendary plunkee Craig Biggio (whose doomed quest to break the all-time record was chronicled by one of the first joke blogs ever) only averaged 16 a season (although there was that memorable 34-plunk campaign).
I bring this up because David Eckstein is another of the few masters of the craft of being a human sandbag. Over his career he’s almost as good as Reed (and again, pretty consistent), averaging 19/162 games over his career. There seems to be a backlash these days towards any kind of ability in baseball that could be associated with “grit” but standing there and taking bullets off the shoulder is a pretty important ability, dammit!
So the next time you’re watching a game this year with one of those sporty statty snobs who think it’s so modern and erudite to trash the mildly-productive hard-working blue collar athletes that casual fans have the gall to admire for playing the game in an entertaining fashion even though they don’t produce maximal win shares, and he/she makes some trite, derisive comment about Eckstein being a lousy leadoff hitter because he walks as often as he strikes out, mutter something about OBP not discriminating about how you get on base and try to resist the urge to throw a 95 mph fastball at their head to punctuate the point that sometimes grit does show up in the boxscores.
*(Stewart is actually about half as good which is still pretty damn good)