CHICAGO — Only one player in the National League has been hit by as many pitches this season as Danny Espinosa, who has attracted six errant deliveries this season. At one point during this weekend’s series against the Cubs, Espinosa was hit in three of four plate appearances. Why?
Espinosa believes his position in the order explains some of it. He has spent most of this season hitting eighth, just ahead of the pitcher’s spot. When they can help it, pitchers do not want the eighth hitter to beat them, because generally, an easy out follows. They can, therefore, lean toward missing by a lot, rather than a little, just to keep the ball away from zones in which hitters can do big damage.
In Friday’s game, for example, Daniel Murphy singled to lead off the fourth inning. Jayson Werth struck out and Wilson Ramos lined out, leaving one man on and two men out for Espinosa, with Max Scherzer on deck. Not wanting to let Espinosa beat him, willing to take his chances with Scherzer, Cubs starter John Lackey tried to pitch Espinosa inside and missed.
“That’s a situation where if he hits me, it doesn’t matter because the pitcher’s coming up,” Espinosa said. “He makes a good pitch or he hits me, who cares? He drills me in the middle of the back. It’s one of those things where you’re in the eight hole, they hit you, they walk you, they don’t really care as long as you don’t get a hit.”
Another contributor to Espinosa’s bruising accumulation of hit-by-pitches is his approach, which amounts to “unwilling to move.” Earlier this season, Manager Dusty Baker said players these days do not try to get out of the way as much as they did in his playing days. Espinosa hardly tries at all. He never has, really. He led the league in being hit by pitches in 2011, and is fifth in the majors since that year, hit 59 times.
“If you’re gonna try to come in and brush me off the plate and move me, I’m not gonna move,” Espinosa said. “I’m not gonna give up the inside part of the plate when they try to free that up.I’m not trying to lean in. If you hit me, you hit me. ”
Why move out of the way when a two-strike pitch could give you first base? Well, if force equals mass times acceleration, and early sabermetrician Isaac Newton said it does, the force of a five-ounce ball traveling at a velocity of 90-plus miles per hour is roughly … plenty. Some players are more prone to flinching away from projectiles hurled their way, and the giant purple, red, and blue bruise Espinosa revealed on his right side suggests their logic may be sound.
“It doesn’t feel good,” Espinosa said. “It stings, but you go on.”