This morning, Major League Baseball suspended Atlanta Braves reliever Jonny Venters four games for beaning Prince Fielder over the weekend after Fielder earlier hit a home run. On its own, a minor suspension isn't of particular interest. What makes this one interesting is that it isn't the first time a pitcher has gotten noticed for throwing at or near Fielder, nor is it the second.
Fielder, it would seem, gets hit by a lot of pitches. Sure enough, a casual glance at the big league leaderboard has Fielder in third place, behind teammate Rickie Weeks and division rival Marlon Byrd. But again, this isn't interesting on its own. What's interesting is the magnitude by which Fielder's HBP rate has suddenly increased.
Some Fielder math:
2006: 1 HBP per 195 pitches
2007: 1 HBP per 185 pitches
2008: 1 HBP per 225 pitches
2009: 1 HBP per 312 pitches
2010: 1 HBP per 114 pitches
Prince Fielder has always gotten hit a lot - even in the minors - which might have something to do with the fact that he's a bigger guy who isn't afraid to stand by the plate. But he's never gotten hit as often as he's been hit in 2010, as his HBP rate is double his previously-established career mark. Even more interesting: he's been getting hit a lot in low leverage situations, implying - but not proving - that some pitchers might have been targeting him on purpose.
Ultimately, there's not a whole lot we can do with this, since the samples are small and we can't prove intent. But I think we're faced with a few possibilities:
(1) This is all just statistical noise, the result of a limited half-season sample
(2) Prince Fielder is approximately twice as big as he's ever been before
(3) There are some pitchers who really don't like him
It's worth considering that Fielder was at the heart of the Brewers' controversial home run celebration last September that led to some ugliness with the Giants in spring training. Did that display bother some other pitchers around the league? Is this how some guys choose to deal with a perceived showboat? We may never know the answer, but as long as we can't prove that the answer is no, we get to enjoy considering the possibility.