So, after giving up a home run to Matt Joyce in the first inning and then apparently not liking Joyce's reaction to a long foul ball, John Lackey decided to plunk Joyce between the numbers on Monday night, setting off a little bench-clearing pushing-and-shoving match between the Rays and Red Sox.
First off, it was a dumb thing for Lackey to do. He'd been struggling all night and was lucky to be ahead 6-4 when he hit Joyce with two outs in the sixth; why risk bringing the tying run to the plate? In fact, Ben Zobrist then doubled to right, although a good play by Shane Victorino prevented Joyce from scoring. Still, Lackey's unnecessary vendetta could have cost the Red Sox.
Of course, hitting batters is nothing new for Lackey. In 2011, he hit 19, most in the majors, and he's ranked in the top 10 in the AL five other times. Definitely not a guy afraid to pitch inside, although the Joyce pitch certainly didn't appear to be a case of merely trying to get inside.
But the most interesting hit by pitch total belongs to Doug Fister, who leads the majors with 12 hit batters -- that's twice as many as any other pitcher except Justin Masterson (who has eight HBPs). The real oddity here, however: Fister has walked just 12 batters in 13 starts. So a guy with amazing control has hit as many guys as he's walked?
It certainly seems a little fishy, especially since Fister hit just seven batters last season. But in going through each hit batter and watching the videos of each one, it's clear that Fister isn't hitting guys in anger, as there's no rhyme or reason to the pitches or the game situation. The videos -- and Fister's reactions -- all show pitches that simply got away. Let's check out all 12 HBPs:
1. April 5: Leading 2-0 in 3rd, hits Brett Gardner on 0-1 curveball with bases empty. Hit him on the foot.
2. April 5: Leading 2-0 in 4th, hits Eduardo Nunez on 0-1 fastball with runner on second. Fastball up and in that got away.
3. April 11: Leading 1-0 in 2nd, hits Rajai Davis on 0-1 fastball with bases empty. Fastball in that hit his hand.
4. April 21: Leading 1-0 in 3rd, hits Luis Jimenez on 1-0 fastball with bases empty. Appeared to graze his elbow pad or jersey.
5. April 21: Trailing 2-1 in 3rd, hits Josh Hamilton on 0-2 slider with runner on second. Hamilton turned into the pitch with his elbow.
6. April 21: Trailing 3-1 in 4th, hits Peter Bourjos on 0-0 fastball with runner on first. Fastball that rode in.
7. April 28: Leading 3-0 in 4th, hits Freddie Freeman on 1-1 slider with runner on first. Slider on a wet night hit Freeman in the shoulder.
8. April 28: Tied 3-3 in 5th, hits Justin Upton on 2-0 fastball with runner on second. Trying to go inside, fastball with great movement hits Upton on hand.
9. May 3: Leading 1-0 in 4th, hits Robbie Grossman on 0-0 curveball with bases empty. Hit him in the foot.
10. May 9: Trailing 3-1 in 2nd, hits Denard Span on 0-2 fastball with bases empty. Yanked a fastball down and in.
11. May 25: Trailing 3-0 in 4th, hits Wilkin Ramirez on 0-0 curveball with bases empty. Curveball in the back.
12. May 30: Tied 0-0 in 1st, hits Neil Walker on 1-0 fastball with bases empty. Nicked his knee.
Fister gets so much movement on his pitches that it's understandable that he's going to hit some guys, especially when he gets that late cutting movement on his fastball, which he's trying to sink.
"Unfortunately, I think it's more mechanics for me," Fister told MLB.com in late April. "Not staying back at times, my arm kind of drags and the sinker gets away from me. For me, it's never intentional to hit a guy. I'm looking over and making sure that they know that it's not intentional."
Even though he doesn't throw hard, Fister isn't afraid to pitch inside. Still, it's a pretty remarkable run of hit batters. The last pitchers to hit 20 in a season were Bronson Arroyo and Carlos Zambrano, who both did it in 2004.
As much as you hear stories about the old-timers hitting batters whenever they felt like it, they didn't actually hit that many batters compared to more recent times, in part because hitters crowd the plate more often now. Don Drysdale, notorious for throwing inside, did hit 20 in 1961 and while he led his league five times in HBPs he topped 15 just two other seasons. The modern record for hit batters is 23, by Howard Ehmke in 1922. The modern modern record is 21 by Kerry Wood of the 2003 Cubs and Tom Murphy of the 1969 Angels. Wood, of course, had that great movement on his hard slider; Murphy's total came in his first full season and he never reached double-digits again.
Anyway, Fister is on record pace. Stay tuned for another record chase!