Doug Fister is doing something kind of amazing so far this season. He’s hitting more batters than he is walking. Through 8 starts and 50 innings, Fister has hit 10 batters and walked 8 for a HBP-BB = 2. This is remarkable just because it’s a crazy thing, but it’s also remarkable because it has never happened before. (Editor’s Note: As of 9/2, Fister has hit 16 and walked 37 in 179.2 IP, he currently ranks 3rd all time and is 5 behind the leader. As of August 7th, this is the BB% to HBP% of every season in MLB history. Fister is in red).
Granted, Fister is only about a quarter of the way through his season and this can’t possibly keep up, but it’s worth noting how crazy this is. Over the course of an entire season, for qualified pitchers, no one has ever hit more batters than they have walked. The MLB record holder is Carlos Silva in 2005 who hit 3 batters and walked 9 in 188.1 innings. That walk rate itself is just fun to look at, but it’s beside the point. No one has ever complete a full season in which they have hit more batters than they have walked and the closest anyone has ever come is a differential of 6.
Now certainly, you will call attention to a small sample size and that over 50 innings pretty much anything can happen. And that’s true, but it doesn’t escape the fact that in 2013, no one else is hitting more batters than they are walking. Not Wainwright, not Colon, not Haren. None of the great control artists of our time are doing this even in the same small sample as Fister. I’m sure there are instances of pitchers doing this over similarly small stretches in history, but they would be very hard to find.
Think of it this way, from 1900-2013, the average pitcher hits 5 batters a season and walks 68. Even in the smallest of samples, it’s pretty extraordinary to find a period in which a pitcher is hitting more than he is walking, and these statistics include eras in which walks were much less common. Even in data that includes the 2013, which will bias the data away from these results, I calculate a chance that a pitcher would finish a season with more HBP than BB between 0.5 and 2 percent if this process played out at random. Here is a graph of HBP-BB with 2013 included, which will include pitchers like Wainwright this year who just haven’t walked many batters because they are good and it’s only been six weeks:
For now, Fister is on pace for a record all his own.