Above is the venerable Chicago White Sox reliever Will Ohman informing an enraged and recently bruised Colby Rasums that hitting him with a pitch wasn’t intentional, and that frankly, he should know better than to imagine it was because the pitch that hit him came when the count was zero balls to two strikes.
Aside: It’s rather amazing what a relief pitcher is able to convey within a couple of hand gestures and facial expressions. If only Mr. Ohman was as accurate with his pitch location as he is with his pantomimes.
Anyway, the question that Mr. Ohman is attempting to ask of Mr. Rasmus here is: Why would a pitcher throw at a batter when he’s ahead in the count like that?
It’s an excuse that’s been used not just by Mr. Ohman, but also by fan bases attempting to justify their team’s actions or discredit another’s: “It wasn’t intentional. It came with two strikes.” The thought being that a pitcher already ahead in a count wouldn’t dare throw at a batter for whom the most likely outcome for his scenario playing out would be an out.
Slow your roll, pilgrim. What if I told you that the majority of hit by pitches came while a pitcher was ahead in the count? I suppose that wouldn’t be entirely surprising considering that a pitcher is more likely to throw outside of the zone while he’s ahead in the count, and quite obviously, not all hit by pitches are the result of a pitcher intentionally throwing at a batter. At least not this Century. I can’t really speak to what went on during the days of Old Hoss Radbourn.
Unless the brazen Cole Hamels is teaching some young whipper snapper with no respect for the game a lesson on how to play baseball the right way, we’re pretty much left to guess whether a pitch that hits a batter was intentional or not.
Sometimes, it’s obvious:
Sometimes, it’s not:
However, given that more than 40% of all 21,137 hit by pitches since 2000 came with two strikes in the count, it’s not completely unreasonable to suspect that maybe one or two of those had some intent behind them. And if not intent, surely a few pitches came in on batters from the hand of a hurler with a devil may care attitude. Another way of looking at it would be to ask what better way there is to mask intent other than tossing a pitch at the opposition after getting ahead in the count.
All of this is to say that, “Hey, look, there were two strikes,” isn’t sufficient evidence that a ball between the shoulder blades was unintentional. It merely means that a pitcher had no better way of maintaining his innocence.