But the numbers don’t support any great plot to target Acuna. We all want to be angry about something. But this certainly isn’t reason.
Not in the short run of his MVP-potential 2021: Acuna has been hit three times through the 32 games in which he’s appeared — the same number of HBPs as Dansby Swanson and twice fewer than his third baseman, Austin Riley. And nobody seems to be ready to go to the mattresses for Riley. He gets plunked and just strolls to first, attempting to treat a hardball tattoo as if it were but a mosquito bite.
Not over the longer haul: Since arriving April 25, 2018, Acuna has been hit 22 times. That’s the most of any Brave over that period, but tied for only 40th-most in the majors. Since then, the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo has been hit 53 times, for the dubious HBP lead. In no season has Acuna been among the top 20 of those hit by a pitch.
Likely much of the uncomfortable relationship between Acuna and the HBP dates to his first season, when then-Marlins pitcher Jose Urena intentionally drilled him to begin a 2018 game and set off an intense, well-documented personal rivalry. Braves manager Brian Snitker has yet to show more anger than that day. The Braves attempt at retribution was almost laughable, Kevin Gausman trying to throw at Urena the next season, but sailing the pitch well astern of him. Acuna would do more palpable damage with a homer off Urena and particularly majestic bat flip. He also will enjoy the ultimate revenge of a far more memorable and rewarding career.
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna (right) grimaces in pain after being hit by a pitch from Miami Marlins'Jose Urena during the first inning Wednesday , Aug. 15, 2018 in Atlanta. Both dugouts emptied and Urena was ejected. (John Bazemore/AP)
You think Acuna gets hit a lot? There are those throughout history who wear hundreds of bruises like badges. Former Astro Craig Biggio is the modern-day HBP record-holder (285). He surpassed the late Don Baylor (267), who when once asked which of his HBPs hurt the most, responded, “None of them.” So much was serving as a human backstop a part of his game that Baylor reportedly only twice took umbrage enough to charge the mound.
(As a counterpoint to such battered batters, consider the career of former Braves infielder Mark Lemke, who played in 1,069 games and was never hit by a pitch).
We live in an age when it is just much more likely a fellow is going to take one off a body part. The past three seasons have seen ever increasing number of batters hit per game – 0.40 in 2018, 0.41 in 2019, 0.46 last season. Each the highest number since the turn of the 20th century.
The explanations vary. From the ever-increasing velocity pitchers are bringing to the park, making it considerably harder to get out of the way. To the proliferation of body armor cloaking today’s batter – each year they look more and more like Imperial stormtroopers – that remove some of the pain and angst involved in getting hit.
Add to that the quandary in pitching to Acuna. Trying to find holes in that swing is like looking for a hole in the ocean. If that means that pitchers have to go searching high and tight for one, then that’s where the desperation will take them. And control isn’t as pinpoint as it used to be.
This doesn’t mean that the Braves shouldn’t get a little nervous every time Acuna’s aggression at the plate intersects with a pitcher’s determination to throw inside. In Acuna’s case, HBP also stands for Harming Braves Prospects.
Nor does it mean we need to get ready to fight every time Acuna gets brushed off the plate. Who has the energy and anger for that?