Barring a Cardinals collapse and a Pirates sweep, the Bucs and Reds will battle this weekend for home-field advantage in Tuesday's Wild Card game. Whether Pittsburgh or Cincy prevails, one thing is virtually guaranteed: a few players will depart Great American Ballpark with brand-new welts.
On average, Pirates batters have been plunked by a pitch every 71 plate appearances this season, leading the majors by a wide margin. The Reds rank second, getting hit every 83 plate appearances. Shin-Soo Choo (25 hit by pitches) and Starling Marte (23) are the undisputed kings of reaching first base the hard way, but Neil Walker and Todd Frazier (14 HBP apiece) also rank in the top 10 in beanings.
Part of the reason that these clubs get hit so frequently, other than the fact that Choo and Marte practically smother the plate, could be strategic. The Pirates struggle badly versus inside pitches, slugging a collective .376 (the MLB average is .411). The Reds are slightly below average (.408). Perhaps some pitchers smell blood and try to pound them inside -- too far inside in some cases.
Fewest PA between hit by pitches for hitters, 2013
The Bucs and Reds aren't just on the receiving end of bushels of hit by pitches -- they're also dishing out plenty of pain to opposing lineups. Pirates pitchers are plunking a hitter an average of every 88 plate appearances, again comfortably (uncomfortably?) leading the majors. The Reds, nailing a batter every 95 plate appearances, rank third. Charlie Morton, Pittsburgh's Saturday starter, has hit the third-most batters in the bigs (15) despite making his season debut on June 13. Mat Latos (10) ranks seventh among pitchers in hit by pitches, though he won't start this weekend. A.J. Burnett (9 HBP) and Homer Bailey (8 HBP) will, however, squaring off on Friday night. Alfredo Simon (8 HBP) also ranks in the top 25 -- and he's a reliever.
Like on the hitting side, something other than malice could be at work here. The Pirates' pitching staff has thrown the highest percentage of inside offerings (about 34 percent) in the majors this season, while the Reds (27 percent) place 12th. Both teams have been highly successful pitching inside: Pittsburgh has the lowest opponent slugging percentage on inner-third pitches (.342), and Cincinnati (.381) ranks seventh.
Fewest PA between hit by pitches for pitchers, 2013