Friday trivia fears no man


Hey.  You.  Are you afraid of the trivia?  Does it frighten you?  Does it make you weak in the spinal column, moist in the palm, and generally twitchy?  Does it intimidate you?  Then go no further.


There are all kinds of intimidation.  There is the intimidation of the sociopath, willing to do anything to bend you to his will.  You can intimidate with pure, dispassionate professionalism, a cool, steely resolve, ruthless toughness, or the simple ability to take a beating and keep on going.  Clearly, there is something intimidating about a group of large men who look like they have given serious thought to exactly how they are going to crush you, the sort of intimidation that leads to worried looks and damp trousers.  There is the intimidation of a strong-armed fellow hurling a leather-covered spheroid in the general direction of your torso or head from just over 60 feet away, or of a lunatic  with a piece of lumber sending that same object back towards you with ungodly force at an unsafe speed.

However you do it, the goal is the same.  You intimidate your opponent in order to get in their head and make them confront the possibility, nay, the inevitability of their defeat.  If you can get them trying not to lose rather than trying to win, you are more than half way to victory.

On the baseball field, intimidation is a routine part of the game.  In particular, it is viewed as a key weapon in the arsenal of the pitcher.  A pitcher who can intimidate the batter can take away a portion of the plate and change the hitter’s approach.  Baseball lore tells us that the manliest way to win is to go after a hitter with your best stuff, control the plate, and take no crap.  Deception and finesse give way to power and force.  In such a confrontation, the worst thing the pitcher can do is to allow a batter to hit a home run and get away with it.  The proper reaction to a home run, particularly if the batter did not look meek enough following the swing, is to plunk someone.

That’s where the idea for the intimidation index came from.  The theory is that the most intimidating pitcher is the one who takes the least crap – the one who hits batters but doesn’t give up too many home runs.

Of course, there is the other side of the bat, too.  For most of baseball history, the pitcher was batting, too.  So I decided to throw in those results.  Since the pitcher is only 1/9th of the lineup, I weighted his plate appearances (I used a factor of 10 for convenience).

So here is the intimidation index: (Hit Batsmen – Home Runs Allowed) + 10 * (Home Runs as batter – Hit by Pitch as batter)

A positive score means the pitcher is a tough guy, that he doesn’t take any crap from anyone, that he is the one dishing it out.  These guys are the bullies, the guys who belittle the opposition by knocking them down, hitting a home run, and getting away scot-free.  If they were nurses on a help line and you called in to ask what to do about some abrasions you had suffered, they would recommend you apply a paste of rubbing alcohol and salt.  If they were your parents and you cried as a child, they’d tell you to quiet down or they’d give you something to really cry about.  If they were tax auditors for the IRS, they would shake you down for a bribe and then have you audited even after you paid it.

Looking at the results for all pitchers with 1500+ innings pitched who debuted in 1950 or later, I was somewhat surprised to see that there was something to it.  There are only 8 guys with positive scores, and it includes a couple of the most intimidating pitchers of the last 60 years.

Who are the eight pitchers with a positive intimidation index (1500+ IP, debut 1950 or later)?

1. Carlos Zambrano (89-137) + 10* (22-0) = 172

2. Don Drysdale (154-280) + 10*(29-5) = 114

3. Earl Wilson (30-236) + 10*(35-5) = 94

4. Don Larsen (26-130) + 10*(14-0) = 36

5. Blue Moon Odom (36-103) + 10*(12-2) = 33

6. Gary Peters (62-157) + 10*(19-7) = 25

7. J.R. Richard (17-73) + 10*(10-2) = 24

8. Bob Gibson (102-257) + 10*(24-8) = 5

The meek may inherit the earth, but they had better be prepared to man up or these guys are going to take it from them about ten minutes later.

But the pitcher is not the only one who can intimidate.  Sometimes the batter is the intimidator.  This can result in an intentional walk.  While the strategic benefit of offering the batter a free base is debatable, I guess we can appreciate how it would ease the pitcher’s fevered mind, reducing the strain and tension of dealing with the fearsome batsman.  Besides, the guys who draw intentional walks are usually pretty good at drawing the unintentional walks, too, so it’s not like you were going to be able to get him out anyway, right?  Usually, but not always.  For a few of these guys, the intentional walk is like Homer winning at poker without knowing it – they’ve lucked into something they may not have deserved.  There have been eight seasons where a batter’s intentional walks have been 50% or more of his total walks {edit: AND he had at least 20 intentional walks}.  There has been one player to do it in each decade from the ‘60’s  to the ‘90’s, and two in the aughts (one player did it three times in his decade).  Some were cases where the walk was probably undeserved, some where cases where the opposition may just have got too enthusiastic about the intentional pass, but it would be understandable.  There are three two hall-of-famers on the list, and one active player with a decent case building.

1. 60’s: Roberto Clemente, 1968 (27/51 intentional)

2. 70’s: Bill Russell, 1973 (20/34 intentional)

3. 80’s: Garry Templeton, 1984, 85, 86 (29/39, 24/41, 21/35 respectively)

4. 90’s: Andre Dawson, 1990 (21/42 intentional)

5. 00’s: Barry Bonds, 2004 (120/232 intentional)

6. 00’s: Vladimir Guerrero, 2006 (25/50 intentional)

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