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Stop hitting Ty France

Liberté, égalité, HBṔ

MLB: Seattle Mariners at New York Mets
You can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

We’re getting close to the 150th anniversary of Rule 5.05(b), or at least its forerunners, which is what awards first base to a batter who is struck by a pitch. Across the league, pitchers seem to be gearing up for the big day.

Underlying data via Fangraphs, 2020 data omitted

Perhaps it’s just natural that HBPs would rise along with strikeouts, walks, and home runs. It is, after all, one of the true outcomes, if the oft-neglected fourth one. But it’s downright bullying to have so much of it happen to one guy. After being booped twice in this weekend’s series against Texas, Ty France is at 11 HBP on the year. Rude. That puts him on pace for 33 for the 2022 season, somehow surpassing last year’s 27, which tied Mark Canha for the most in MLB. It’s a higher pace than 2021 too, with 4.53% of his plate appearances ending with a bonk, compared to 4.15% last year. Compare those rates with the league-wide ones in the chart above. Another point for context is that the entire Detroit Tigers pitching staff has combined to hit batters just nine times all year. The clubbies probably have to keep a separate set of ice packs just for France.

To be fair, sometimes he leans into it a little bit.

But basically this is happening because the book on Ty France is that one of the few places to get him out, aside from trying to work him low and away, is on the inside part of the plate, with the hopes he’ll get jammed for some weak contact and a lazy flyout. A complicating factor here is that the six-foot-tall France, who doesn’t maybe have the long levers of a Judge or Stanton, stands a little closer to the plate in order to cover that outside pitch. [Kate advised me to include this bit about his height, and insofar as it implies that six feet is short, I want to say for the second time in this post: rude.] Working France inside thus serves the dual purpose of jamming him or brushing him back. However, to pitch inside effectively requires excellent command, and pitchers who have sacrificed control for velocity end up just pummeling our poor frog.

I’d like pitchers to stop doing it because it puts France at risk of injury. Even with the elbow pad, things can go awry. After Dustin May nailed him on the forearm, he went through an extended slump, as catalogued here by Matthew and then given further treatment here by John. And let’s remember that this was the good scenario, where the cost was a minimum-stay IL stint and then a slump. HBPs can go much worse.

You might think his conk rate is a good thing, though. Getting hit by pitches is a skill, and it’s unquestionably a part of Ty France’s skillset, helping elevate his OBP despite his below-average walk rate. But I ask, is the extra 3% of his plate appearances that end in a welt (compared to league average) worth the risk? Even if they all became outs, that’s hardly game-changing OBP. And in reality, those plate appearances should average out among his other outcomes, not automatically become outs.

My real argument to the rest of the league, though, is less about leaving our baby alone and more about the fact that it’s against their interests. Obviously an HBP is a bad outcome for a pitcher. But even more importantly, challenging Ty France inside was maybe once a good idea, but doing it now is like your dad on TikTok—it’s just making you look old. Take a look at what he’s doing with pitches on the inside of the plate this year.

I’ll save you the counting—there are nine swings and misses and 14 called strikes in that image. Nine whiffs compared to ten HBPs. (Savant didn’t yet include data for June 5.) That’s bad odds. But maybe it’s the best they can do? Not so. On the inside, pitchers have gotten those 14 called strikes on 151 pitches, a measly 9.3% compared to his overall called-strike rate of 13.3%. Nor is he swinging and missing: The nine whiffs on 151 pitches totals just 5.9%. Like the called strikes, that’s worse than his overall results, where he’s whiffed 77 times on 849 pitches, a 9.0% rate. On the inside, Ty France’s eyes are sharper than Coco Chanel’s and his hands are faster than Bill Hickock’s; he’s laying off those pitches, and when he’s swinging, he’s getting to them. That doesn’t sound like a hole in his swing to me.

I’m so desperate to avoid Ty France getting hurt that I’m actually going to give the league some advice: rather than attacking him inside, try low and away. Here are all of Ty France’s swinging strikes this year.

That cluster of breaking balls low and outside is a much better route to success against Frenchy. Now if a pitcher misses, and lands it in the zone, Ty’s probably going to punish it, so there’s some risk to this. But take a look at what happens with two strikes in particular.

There’s no easy way to get Ty France out. He’s a very good hitter. But going low and outside (as long as it’s actually outside the zone) is going to leave a pitcher much better off. Worst case scenario is a ball. And it’s not like that’s worse than an HBP. To drive the point home, I’m going to include one more image, this is all of Ty France’s two-strike contact. There’s a lot on the inside, but basically nothing low and outside.

You can see from the charts that this isn’t a revolutionary point; pitchers know they can try to get Ty out by going low and outside, having thrown 20% of their pitches to France there over the last two seasons. What I’d say though is that because this is such a better place to attack him, maybe they should throw fewer pitches inside. He’s got a higher chance of punishing inisde pitches, and the odds of generating a whiff with it are lower than the odds that it puts him on base for free.

Pitchers: your strategy is putting our sweet boy’s health at risk, and it doesn’t even work! So please, stop hitting Ty France.