Inside Pitch Magazine, Spring 2015

Ground Rules: Newly Approved Hit by Pitch Rule Could Change Approaches

 By Justin Brown
Hit By PitchThis spring there could potentially be a drop in one statistic across the country. How significant remains to be seen, but there is a new interpretation taking place that could effect on base percentages across the college landscape – the hit by pitch.

In previous years, if a batter was hit by a pitch while in the batter’s box, he was awarded first base by the umpire as long as the pitch was not deemed to be in the strike zone. This allowed the batter to lean in to pitches in an attempt to reach base. Often in the thrills of a close game if an inside pitch just missed the batter, chants of “wear it!” riddled the hitter as teammates in the dugout wished the batter would have actively attempted to get hit by the pitch in order to reach base, keep the rally going, and score runs to win the game. This is known by many as “taking one for the team” or “wearing” pitches.

Presently, it is as easy to reach base by way of a hit by pitch. It remains to be seen if the new interpretation of the rule will make hitters think twice about “wearing” one.

Under the new interpretation, a hitter may not automatically be awarded first base after being struck by the ball. The new rule reads as follows.

“(1) A batter must attempt to avoid being hit by the pitch. If he does not attempt to avoid being hit by the pitch then:

a) If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, the ball is dead, it shall be called a ball and the batter is not awarded first base.
b) If the ball is inside the strike zone when it touches the batter, the ball is dead, it shall be called a strike and the batter is not awarded first base.”

The current rationale for this ruling is that it is the batter’s responsibility to make an attempt to avoid being hit by the pitch. If the batter does not make an attempt to avoid being hit by the pitch, the ball is called dead and the result of the pitch is called based on its location either in or out of the strike zone.

While the season is just underway it will be interesting to see the implications across college baseball this spring and summer.

Will there be a drop in HBP this season?

It seems as if the rule – if properly enforced – will encourage batters to refrain from leaning in to pitches that once allowed them to reach base, but now will only result in a slight advantage in the count.

Will this ruling have an impact in a reduction of injuries?

The ruling states that it also aims to improve student-athlete safety.

Is the ruling a turning of the tide for pitchers?

In the past, pitchers had to be more careful throwing inside because some batters would lean into the pitch to get on base. Now it seems that they will be able to pitch inside without fear of a batter leaning into a pitch just off the plate.

While this certainly is not an exhaustive list of questions that arise with the new ruling, it remains to be seen all of the effects in the game this ruling will cause. Be on the lookout for a change in approach on both sides of the ball this spring and summer as the game adjust to this new rule change.

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