The Brushback: A Pitch of the Past

Devon TeepleAnalyst IMay 16, 2011

Times have changed in the game of baseball, that’s for sure. The brushback pitch for example, is a lost art. 

Aside from Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens, can anyone name a pitcher in the last decade that did not have fear to throw inside? Or one that the opposition second guessed before digging in? 

After Jose Bautista tagged his 14th homerun during the Twins game, the booth commented that if they were to pitch to Bautista, he would see more pitches up and in “neck area.” 

My comment, why not? 

Beyond Pedro, the only other pitcher I can recall that players feared with the inside pitch was Jaret Wright. 

In 1999, Wright beaned five guys before July and started two bench-clearing brawls. He was ultimately suspended for his actions. 

Now, if anyone comes near you, a death stare is returned and the umpires issue warnings to both benches. 

It begs me to ask, if you can’t pitch inside, what can you do? 

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It also doesn’t help that when Barry Bonds or David Ortiz walk(ed) up to the plate, they’re wearing a shin guard on their forearm. What apprehension do they face when certain that nothing will come within 8.5 inches of them. Why stand away from the plate? Crowd the chalk and wait for your pitch. 

The last couple years have favoured the pitcher, and most can say it’s due to drug testing and an elevated focus on team defence and speed. Yet, somehow these guys at the dish need a wake-up call every now and then. 

Perception is reality.  We all remember Randy Johnson vs. John Kruk. Kruk was beaten after one pitch that sailed over his head and off the backstop. 

Keeping any hitter honest will make a pitcher more successful. Take Tom Glavine for example. Glavine’s early New York Met career was not met with much success until he started pitching inside (advice from Rick Peterson). That one little adjustment kept batters from leaning out over the plate. 

Greg Maddux, the man with pinpoint control, sits 18th on the all-time list with 137 HBP. Coincidentally, he is tied with Martinez.

Whether it’s a pitcher adjusting in the twilight of his career, or keeping a hitter honest, this is not the same game it used to be.  The game is played to win, not with intent to hurt anyone, but a brush back is not illegal and should not be treated like that. 

Click here and here to view HR/pg and HBP/pg starting from 1994 to present date.

It appears there is a correlation between hit batters and home runs per game. But take this away after you read this. The playing field may have levelled out since 2006, the numbers are evidence of that, but the style of the game has changed. 

On Sunday May 15, Jose Bautista his three homeruns against the Minnesota Twins, he was thrown inside one time and that was during his first at-bat of the game. 

I’m baffled.

Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective

Devon is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals& Gateway Grizzlies, and is now an independent scout.

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