Plunken' Em

Plunken' Em
Mark Parent; probably thinks taking a pitch in the ribs isn't that big of a deal // William DeShazer, Chicago Tribune

Mark Parent was talking pretty tough on Sunday, and no tough-guy, hard-nosed bench coach persona is really complete without some pledge of loyalty to the team, seasoned with a bit of implied violence.  Or at least, that's what all the bench coach handbooks say.

So while it was notable that Parent made a pledge of retaliation ("You hit our guy, we'll hit your guy") for future White Sox batters hit by pitches either intentionally or through reckless disregard (I'm assuming Parent isn't envisioning avenging every wayward curveball), it certainly wasn't shocking given his prior reputation, and given the way the last 150 or so years of baseball have gone down.

If anything, one would assume that Parent had done his homework.  Maybe he didn't know that the White Sox had been 5th in plunkings received over the last five years, but 28th in bruises dished out (h/t @SSS_UGod), and I can't be sure he was specifically in the sad saga of Cleveland relievers and the broken hands left in their wake, but he spoke with a certain awareness that his audience would be receptive to a newly aggressive approach.

It seemed unlikely to start a controversy, but that's viewing it entirely within its context.

Outside of its context, Mark Parent is announcing his intention to use large men hurtling rock-hard spheres at people at extremely high speeds as a violent deterrent, and was applauded for doing so.  That sounds a lot worse.

At Hardball Talk, Craig Calcaterra saw Parent's comments as the continuation of an ugly trend that he feels has no place in the game.

"Longtime readers know my view on intentional plunkings and beanball wars: I hate ‘em.  A pitched ball could potentially kill a guy, so the idea of a pitcher intentionally aiming one at a batter is just abhorrent to me.

...

I don’t know how any reasonable person can see their team’s player get hit and have their first impulse be 'we need to hit them!' as opposed to “that pitcher needs to get ejected and suspended.'"

That's fair.  While circumstances have changed drastically from when Ray Chapman died in 1920, Marlon Byrd's case of multiple facial fractures this year wasn't exactly easy on the eyes, and Brent Lillibridge having his dream season ended with a broken hand was a pretty clear example of what kind of damage could result from a more aggressive baseball landscape.  Plunking and its resulting discord evokes the tribalistic passions that baseball fandom already appeals to, but the fallout isn't worth the thrill.

Of course, any discussion of the White Sox mindset on this matter is incomplete without Jim Margalus' chronicling of the September incidences at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, which outlined distinct variances from the normal HBP rates of Cleveland relievers when facing the White Sox.

"This doesn't tell me that Judy is throwing at the White Sox intentionally. But his performance, when combined with what his colleagues are doing, strongly suggests that they've been advised to pitch inside as freely as they'd like.

The Minnesota Twins operate by the same playbook. Known for being control artists, the Twins have plunked just 98 batters since the start of the 2010 season...

... and a quarter of them have been White Sox (23)."

At those rates, Parent and Ventura would have a lot of hits to order.  If the Sox believe they're getting hit with impunity because teams doubt that there are any consequences to recklessly pitching them inside, what recourse do they have to remove that notion?  While using violence to justify more violence is folly, that might not even be what Parent is doing.

There's a major step in-between ordering players to nail batters, and pitchers actually following through, and there's yet another step between actually ordering pitchers to retaliate, and just talking about it during SoxFest to change public perceptions about the operational policy at 35th & Shields.  It's too soon to know about how Parent operates, or how much Parent's tough talk gets filtered and modified by Ventura, (or who even noticed SoxFest took place outside a 50 mile radius), but so far all he's done is attempt to change the reputation.

And the issue is all about reputation.  While brawls and the general incompetence that occurs when baseball players has been ascribed to having clubhouse unifying properties in the past, it goes without saying that  the White Sox--especially this paper-thin team with not much other than organizational filler backing up at several positions--won't actually benefit from a beanball war, and are hopefully too smart to actually be courting one.

 

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  • I fall in the Calcaterra camp on this one. When a pitcher who has trained himself to throw a hard ball at high speeds with pinpoint accuracy makes a conscious decision to throw at an unwitting batter and then follows through, to me that seems pretty clearly assault with a deadly weapon.

    Add in that pitchers throw at batters for a variety of reasons ranging from dumb to deeply concerning (e.g. racism - see James' post on Minnie Minoso's career) and I'm further convinced that the practice has no place in baseball.

    For Mark Parent to make such a comment suggests one or two things about his character: he is an "old school," "hard-nosed" baseball guy who don't take no s*** from no one and/or a panderer of cheap SoxFest applause. Either way, makes him seem like a jackass. I would of much preferred it if he said: "You hit our guy, we're gonna score that runner."

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    I think it's a tough situation.

    If Parent is ignorant of the circumstances, and is just posturing because that's what he likes to do, then yeah, he's a meatball, and Ventura needs to be the one who says "Hey, best to ignore Mark when he's demanding a blood sacrifice and all"

    If he's aware of the circumstances, then it becomes an issue of what he's trying to do. It's probably too optimistic to say he's just posturing, which would be the best-case scenario. If not, that's a hard call as a manager or a bench coach to do nothing if you think your players are being victimized, and will continue to be. Refusing to retaliate might be a good way to lose respect if guys are having their hands broken left and right.

    No one wants to see the White Sox be the sneering, jerkish bad boys of the league, but is any amount of engagement forgivable if it solves the problem?

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    I'm not naive to the fact that psychology has something to do with winning, but I think a smart coaching staff and front office could both not retaliate and not come off as sissies.

    To the press, Ventura might say: "we're not inthe business of vengeance, we're in the business of winning baseball games. And last I checked there was no correlation between hitting batters and winning"; "you can't score runs without baserunners, you want to give us free baserunners, thanks"; "we play hard, we sacrifice our bodies to win, but we are not in the business of taking cheap shots at opposing players that may result in serious injury in order to win."

    In the locker room the coaching staff basically says the same thing but with more swear words. Try to get the team to take some extra f***ing pride in scoring HBP baserunners. I mean, don't you think that deep down, guys like Gordon Beckham and Brent Lillibridge (and others who have been injured by pitched balls) might welcome an alternative to the "you hit us, we hit you" approach?

    Lastly, behind closed doors team officials make appeals to the league to protect players. Make some rule changes if necessary.

    As an organization, dealing with your players getting hit a lot without retaliating could be done tactfully while effectively maintaining team dignity in my mind, but it would require getting beyond the macho posturing and changing the culture of the game.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    Without fail, Brent Lillibridge and Gordon Beckham's responses on the matter have been "I hope it's a coincidence", so yeah, I'm sure they'd definitely want to avoid something like this. I said Ventura tempered Parent's comments, but I'd like to give the specifics:

    "I don't pitch, and it's not going to be a necessary order," Ventura said. "But the game takes care of itself and the pitchers, we want to protect our own guys.

    "If we feel it's necessary, obviously the game takes care of itself and guys take care of their own teammates. That's important for the guys on our team and staff to know we're standing behind each other and protecting each other."

    Given Ventura's history, I'm betting he's not any bigger fan of the old-school, bashing guys on the inside of the plate style than the next guy, but it also doesn't sound he's going to have a lot of room to innovate, or change the culture. I wouldn't suggest that he couldn't, but it would be pretty surprising if he pulled something off like that in his first year.

    It seems like a nuclear option. An entirely detestable solution to a problem that needs to be addressed in some way. They can't keep getting dinged by the rest of the division, they can't keep surrendering the inside part of the plate. These are real competitive disadvantages, and they need to find a solution to it. And if they want to avoid too much ugliness, they're going to need to be creative. So I'm a little hesitant in condemning them while they're still just posturing.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    Who is surrendering the inside part of the plate? Sox hitters or pitchers?

    Granted I'm an idiot, but I'm just not seeing the situation as dire. The Sox got hit a lot, but Quentin got hit 23 times. Beckham got hit 13 times. I'm not surprised with his approach/mechanics or lack thereof. Incidentally, without getting hit 13 times, Beckham's OBP would have been .279. Yikes. Anyway, that's 36 HBP by two players alone. And Quentin is gone.

    As far as Sox pitching, they hit 44 batters. Texas and Tampa Bay pitching each hit 46. So it seems that hitting batters isn't necessarily a prerequsite for success.

    You take Quentin off the Sox and they are probably somewhere in the Tampa Bay Rays zone: batting hbp: 73, pitching hbp: 46. And the Rays won 91 games. Maybe there is a stronger correlation between HBP ratios and wins and the Rays are an anomoly, I don't know. Or maybe I should be looking at runs but . . .

    I don't like seeing the Sox players get hurt, but I like them getting on base. The Sox pitching staff hasn't retaliated but it has also been among the league's best, so it's not like opposing hitters are up there comfortable against Sox pitchers. So I'm not getting it. This still seems like an eye for an eye, back in the day, one for all and all for one type of argument that has no real basis in anything that equates with wins or runs scored/conceded. Please enlighten me if you have the time. If not, that's OK, it will remain on a long list of natural/statistical/social phenomena beyond my grasp.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    That's "anomaly" not "anomoly." And I apologize for any other errors made in haste. I was told there would be spell check.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    It would be the hitters surrendering the inner half of the plate. If any of this isn't in response to the outbreak of hit-by-pitches, and the slate of injuries that's popped up along with it, then yeah, Parent's just being a man's man because he likes how it feels.

    The Margalus piece I linked to examined the HBP rates of the Sox, and saw very large spikes of plunkings received from AL Central teams. An amount that was an outlier to the Sox normal rate, and the normal rate of those AL Central teams (and their specific pitchers). Specifically Josh Judy of the Indians hit a bunch of White Sox batters and hardly anyone else, same for Bruce Chen. From this, Jim inferred that the White Sox hesitance to respond (because Ozzie earned a reputation) was being exploited by the teams who would be in the best position to know of its existence. It was still a pretty small sample, so Margalus wasn't certain about it, but it was eye-opening.

    This is a pretty small-scale issue, and you wouldn't want it to dictate the tone of the team, but it's gotta be what they're harping at. It's a hard thing to convince guys they should just be happy to get on base when they feel like they're being attacked.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    Holy crap that was not all suppose to be in italics. It makes it look like I'm angrily whispering the whole time.

  • Or that you just really wanted to emphasize the last 6 sentences of your 7 sentence response.

    Thanks for taking the time and giving me some more context. I read the Margalus piece when it was posted a while ago, and re-read it when you linked to it.

    But if the point of retaliating is this . . .

    "The point of Buehrle plunking a guy is to trigger the warning from the umpire, which would hopefully take away half the plate from a Cleveland pitching staff that doesn't have the greatest command, and whether it inflicts any memorable pain is secondary."

    then why don't pitchers with better control always plunk guys in the beginning of games? Margalus might say that whether the ball hurled at the batter "inflicts any memorable pain is secondary," but the tone and focus of the piece suggests that "taking away half the plate" is a convenient strategy-related excuse for its more pointed purpose: "the Sox aggressively and effectively execut[ing] the score-evening HBP."

    Granted the last quote is a bit out of context, and I’m not accusing Jim Margalus of being a brute. But I've seen little evidence that getting hit a lot leads to, as you say, "real competitive disadvantages," or that Sox hitters are discouraged that Sox pitchers have failed to "protect" them. Which leads me to believe that this particular problem with the White Sox may be a product of visceral or knee-jerk reactions; a reaction from Sox faithful who want their team to be tough and not get bullied. But I commend the Sox for not headhunting because, like I said, I think throwing baseballs at other professionals is dumb and dangerous. And without a lot of evidence beyond, "yeah, the Sox are getting hit a lot," why dwell? The Sox have enough problems without us conjuring up more through speculation and presumption (at least more speculation and presumption than the normal allotment).

    Anyways, I want to let this go now since I'm too thickheaded to get it, and I've already taken up too much of your time. Thanks again.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    I would think, or hope, that the reason control pitchers don't always plunk is because it's a generally undesirable practice and not particularly helpful when carried out that aggressively.

    The competitive disadvantages I'm referring to would be the half of the plate thing. Mainly, opposing pitchers being able to bust inside without the fear of consequences if they moved plate-crowders away with force.

    You're right that it's a pretty harsh practice in response to a minor concern, and a lot of it has to do with discerning how much intent there is. I think the common sentiment among supporters is that the Sox need to change scouting reports away from "pitch them inside at will" and think they can plunk within somewhat measured constraints and accomplish that goal. They would probably point to Buehrle calmly drilling Cuddyer in the back in 2010 in response to Konerko getting hit in the jaw, as a stern but not over-the-top instruction for the Twins to back the hell off. A detractor might point out that the Twins scored 3 runs that inning, won the game, put the division out of reach, and they may even make note that Buehrle once gave Travis Hafner a concussion with a beanball.

    Just thinking about that stretch gives me pause.

    Maybe it is just dumb. The broken hands are hard to watch, though.

  • Whoa, now I'm all in italics! What the heck? How'd that happen?

    And I can't reply directly to any comment. Fix Chicago Now...um...now!!

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    The Tribune's broke! They can't afford straight letters anymore!

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