Editor's Note: This article has been contributed by Michael Bourn, aka "PBR," author of the very amusing site Plunk Everyone. He gained national notoriety in 2005 as the author of Plunk Biggio, an exhaustive and dogged chronicle of Craig Biggio's epic quest for the most cherished record in sports, for which Bourn was profiled by no less than George Will. At our invitation, he's composed this authoritative guide to the 2008 Indians and their record-breaking achievement. Hope you enjoy it. [Jay]
Great things were expected from the 2008 Cleveland Indians, and they delivered great things — just not quite the ones everyone was expecting. By the standard measure of baseball success, wins and losses, the 2008 season has been a disappointment. But last night, Boston's Jon Lester hit Grady Sizemore with a pitch, bringing the Indians total to 101 on the season — a new MLB record, and truly a great thing. Hey, somebody wins the World Series every year, but getting hit by 101 pitches? No team has done that since 1899, at the tail end of the first Golden Age of HBPs.
The most remarkable thing about this club's particular 101 HBPs is that it has been a total team effort. Every Indians batter with more than 50 plate appearances has been plunked at least once this year — 17 different batters — but none were hit more than Ryan Garko's 15 plunks. When the Astros got hit 100 times in 1997, they needed 34 pitches to land on Craig Biggio. Of the seven teams who got hit over 100 times before 1900, five of them had at least one batter with over 30 HBPs. One had a team leader with just 19, but for the Indians to get over 100 HBPs with no one being hit more than 15 times is an amazing testament to teamwork.
Overall, the Indians have won 41 games in which they got hit by at least one pitch, and lost 30. At that rate, if they'd managed to get hit in every game, they'd have finished the season at 93-69. If they'd just spread their 101 plunks out over 101 games, and won at the same rates, they'd be on pace for an 89 win season, contending for first place. But the problem was, they got hit more than once in 26 games, and were only 13-13 in those games (10-12 with 2 HBPs, 3-1 with 3). That, and those 88 games in which they didn't get hit where they went 38-50 ... that was a problem, too.
Indians who reached base on a plunk this season scored 31 runs and drove in 5. The Indians scored an average of 5.4 runs in games when at least one Indian was hit by a pitch, but they scored only 4.5 runs per game when they didn't get hit by any pitches. They also scored nearly a run per inning more in innings that included an HBP. They scored 0.49 runs in innings that didn't include an HBP, and 1.45 runs in innings in which they got plunked — clearly, the 2008 Cleveland Indians offense was heavily based on getting hit by pitches. Indians batters who reached base on a HBP went on to score 30.7% of the time, while they only scored on 26.2% of walks and 25.3% of singles. They say a walk is as good as a single, but a HBP is better than both.
Seventy-one different pitchers plunked the Indians this year — 54 right-handers and 17 lefties. They pitched for 17 different teams and weighed a total of 14,795 pounds. The only team the Indians played that managed to avoid plunking them was the Tampa Bay Rays. Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers hit the most Indians, six, with pitches that had an average start-speed of 92 mph. The Tigers hit the Indians a total of 21 times, and that is (at least) an expansion era record. No single team had been plunked by another team more than 19 times between 1957 and 2007 (team vs team plunk totals are hard to come by before 1957).
Ryan Garko got hit the most for the Indians, with 15 HBPs, but he also got hit the hardest — on June 8, a Zach Miner pitch struck him while still traveling 89.1 mph, according to MLB's Gameday stats. Justin Verlander hit Sal Fasano on July 31 with a pitch that left his hand at 96.2 mph but slowed to 88.3 mph before impact. Kelly Shoppach took the easist plunk — #100 on the season from Tim Wakefield on September 23 — hitting Shoppach at just 55.1 mph.
The Indians got hit the most often on Tuesdays, with 21, but only got hit 7 times on Fridays. They got hit 67 times in even numbered months (April, June and August) but just 34 times so far in odd numbered months. 61 of the 101 plunks were thrown by pitchers 28 years old or under, including 21 plunks by 12 pitchers born in 1983. They've still got three more games against the White Sox to add to their record, including the grand finale against Mark Buehrle on Sunday. Buehrle has plunked Travis Hafner six times in his career, which is tied for the most times that any active pitcher has hit any active batter.
So congratulations to the Cleveland Indians and their fans for a truly amazing season. The 2008 Cleveland Indians are the best team in American League history (at getting hit by pitches), the best team in major league history (at getting hit by pitches), and the best major league team (at getting hit by pitches) since 1899, when Hughie Jennings, was working on the all time record. Despite the 101 times the Indians have been hit, they've only hit their opponents 51 times, showing impressive restraint. If every team had a full roster of guys willing to take over 100 bruises to help their team win, without getting hysterical and vowing vengeance against the pitcher and his family like certain Detroit Tigers, Major League Baseball would be a truly special place. Especially if they could do it without getting too injured.
I'll be posting more on the 2008 Cleveland Indians once the final numbers are in Sunday, over at Plunk Everyone, so stop by if you'd like to learn more. Especially if you don't mind the fact that the "more" you learn is in no way useful.