Looking at the Trends of Andrew McCutchen Getting Hit by the Reds

Andrew McCutchen Pirates

Was the HBP against McCutchen last night intentional? (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Last night the Cincinnati Reds hit Andrew McCutchen for the fourth time this season. This time it was Sam LeCure, and it happened in the eighth inning. After the game, Dusty Baker denied that the hit by pitch was intentional. David Manel of Bucs Dugout has the full quote here. It’s not a surprise that Baker would deny it. If it was intentional, he’d never admit that. But let’s look at some of the trends to see if there is a pattern emerging.

The Incidents

May 31st: McCutchen was hit by Johnny Cueto in his first at-bat, first pitch. There was one out and a runner on first. This was the first game of the series.

June 17th: This time it was Mike Leake hitting McCutchen with an 0-2 pitch in the fourth inning with no outs. This was also the first game of the series.

June 20th: With one out and Starling Marte on third, McCutchen was hit with a 3-2 pitch by Homer Bailey. This was the final game of the same series.

September 20th: McCutchen was hit with a 2-2 pitch leading off the inning in the eighth, with the Pirates leading by three.

The Pitchers

Johnny Cueto – He only has one hit batter this year, and that’s McCutchen. However, Cueto has a history of hitting batters, including 12 last year.

Mike Leake – He has six hit batters in 190 innings this year. That ties for 29th in the majors out of 81 qualified starters.

Homer Bailey – He has hit eight batters this year, after hitting eight last year. His eight ties for 14th in the league.

Sam LeCure – This was his first hit batter of the year, and his second hit batter in the last two seasons, spanning over 100 innings.

Does it Make Sense to Hit McCutchen?

You don’t want to give up free base runners, but at the same time you don’t always want to pitch to Andrew McCutchen. So let’s look at whether, in theory, it makes sense to hit McCutchen. The goal here will be to determine whether hitting McCutchen is better than pitching to him.

May 31st: MAYBE. You don’t want to start the game by putting runners on first and second with one out. Cueto had just walked Neil Walker, so it’s not like his control was there that inning. At the same time, the Pirates had Garrett Jones and Travis Snider up next, and both had been struggling in the month of May. That was followed by Michael McKenry, Brandon Inge, and Clint Barmes. So it’s not like there was a threat after McCutchen. Still, I’d lean a little closer to “NO”, as you don’t want to start the game with two runners on base and one out.

June 17th: NO. Why would you hit a batter with an 0-2 count and no outs?

June 20th: YES. You don’t want to pitch to McCutchen with one out and a runner on third. Putting him on base is a safe play. That’s not to say that Bailey hit him on purpose. I’d just lean more to “YES” in this case, since the goal here is to see if hitting McCutchen is better than pitching to him.

September 20th: MAYBE. I can’t fully buy the “why would we want to hit McCutchen down by three” argument. At that point the game looked pretty much over. At the same time, this is like the June 17th incident where you question why someone would intentionally hit a batter with two strikes.

The only case where it makes total sense to hit McCutchen is the June 20th game. The theory is questionable for two other games, and made no sense on June 17th.

McCutchen’s Zone Profile

A few weeks ago John Dreker wrote about how the Pirates farm system throws inside so often. There are benefits to throwing inside, with most of those benefits coming from the fact that inside pitches are harder to hit. I wanted to see if that was the case with McCutchen, so I went to Brooks Baseball for his zone profile. The image below is from the catcher’s point of view, and shows McCutchen’s batting average per zone throughout his career.

plot_h_profile-1

The worst zone? The top left corner. If you miss that a bit outside, you hit McCutchen in the shoulder, which is where most of the hits happen. The fact that there’s another bad zone right next to that means it makes sense to keep the ball high and inside. No other two zones that are side by side are as favorable to pitchers as that area. So it definitely makes sense that pitchers are throwing to that spot against McCutchen. And if you miss in that area, you’re probably going to hit him.

The Dirty NL Central

I mentioned this on Twitter last night after reading Dusty Baker’s quote about how the Pirates pitchers lead the league in hit batters: they also lead in hit batters. Looking at it further, the entire NL Central has a HBP problem.

Here are the top six teams in the league in batting HBP:

1. Pirates – 83

2. Reds – 74

3. Brewers – 70

4. Red Sox – 69

5. Cubs – 63

6. Cardinals – 61

The five NL Central teams rank in the top six in getting hit by pitches. Now here are the top teams in pitching HBP:

1. Pirates – 67

2. Blue Jays – 63

3. Cardinals – 62

4. Phillies – 61

5. Cubs – 60

6. Reds – 59

27. Brewers – 39

It’s not a surprise that these two are linked. If the NL Central teams are the highest in one category, then they would be the highest in the other category. The exception would be the Brewers, who are getting hit, but not hitting batters (sorry Brewers).

McCutchen has nine HBP on the season, but the guys who drive up the total for the Pirates are Neil Walker (14) and Starling Marte (22). McCutchen’s total ranks third.

The Reds Are a Baseball Villain, Not a Comic Book Villain

I know the knee-jerk reaction is to assume the Reds did this intentionally. They have turned into the biggest rival the Pirates have. The games between the two teams are heated, and neither team has an advantage over the other team (the season series is tied 7-7). The Reds are a baseball villain.

The Reds aren’t a comic book villain though. They’re out to win baseball games, not hit Andrew McCutchen with pitches. In most cases, it doesn’t make sense in theory to hit McCutchen. When it does make sense, it still is only in the theory of “hitting McCutchen would be better than pitching to McCutchen”. But that ignores all of the other times where it didn’t make sense to pitch to McCutchen, and yet they did.

The biggest thing here is the tendency of pitching inside. There is clearly a benefit of pitching high and inside to McCutchen, since that is his weakest area. And it would be hypocritical for Pirates fans to go against that practice, since the idea of pitching inside has been embraced so much by the organization at every level. From the looks of things, it has also been embraced by other teams in the NL Central.

As much as you’d want to say that the Reds were throwing at McCutchen intentionally, I don’t think that’s the case. That would make it easier to hate the Reds, but the fact is that the Reds are only taking the same approach the Pirates embrace.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ian.rothermund Ian Rothermund

    Reading through the article, I was curious about something. In games between the Reds and Pirates, from the last two years let’s say, what percentage of hit Pirates’ batters have been McCutchen? That could hint as to the possibility that he’s been a target. Personally, while knowing for sure that the Reds’ pitches have been targeting him would enrage me, I think it should make little difference in regards to the potential for retaliation. Even if it’s an accident, there should be some response to the best player on a team being hit on a seemingly consistent basis. Yes, throwing inside is a valuable tool. However, if an opposing team is consistently hitting my players, I’d just as soon plant the seed that regardless of intent, that there are consequences. Then again, no one ever accused me of being a passive player when I was on the field, lol.

  • ddo729

    What about the factor of the warning from the ump. The Reds have to know because of previous tension that the ump would give a warning to both teams. This made it riskier for the Pirate pitchers to pitch inside the rest of the game. This at least raised the odds that they could stage a comeback. There are other factors also, after Chapman hit Cutch a couple years ago, it seemed he never got his swing back the rest of the year. Your thinking is too one dimensional and all the factors where not considered. I would expect a more in depth analysis from you.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

      So you’re saying the Reds threw at McCutchen knowing that the ump would give a totally unexpected warning, and thus prevent the Pirates from pitching inside late in the game to stage a comeback?

      If that’s the case, why didn’t they throw at McCutchen in the first inning and take the inside part of the plate away from the Pirates the entire game?

    • smurph

      ddo’s comment makes sense. The way the rules are, the first team to hit a batter gets a free pass. Then both teams are warned. Never understood that rule. Sure they don’t want you to retaliate, but you are giving them one free HBP. And I certainly agree that when Chapman beaned Cutch 2 years ago, he was not the same the rest of the year. If it works once, keep doing it until they stop you.

      • http://www.piratesprospects.com/author/admin Tim Williams

        Warnings don’t usually come after the first batter hit though.

  • mgeorg

    Tim, to me it looks like low and away is the worst zone, followed by middle outside. Probably because he is usually trying to pull those pitches instead of hitting them to right.

  • mgeorg

    Never mind, I thought you were talking about the strike zone, not the overall chart.

  • weltytowngang

    I wonder the what the most HPB is for any other player and any other team by the Reds.