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Jon Jay’s mastery of the painful HBP

Jon Jay is not the only person known for his “prowess” at getting hit by pitches, but his method is not for the faint of heart.

MLB: Chicago Cubs-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I like going to baseball games by myself because I never know what kind of people I will end up sitting next to. I went to a game at Nats Park in April of 2015 and ended up next to a group of four middle-aged white men. As Jon Jay stepped up to the plate for the first time, the man to my right leaned toward me and said, “This guy has the biggest butt in the league.” I found it funny because: 1) it implied he looked at other butts in the National League; 2) this man, to whom I had never spoken, considered the relative size of Jon Jay’s butt pertinent enough information to share.

The real question: was he right? True, at that time, pitches almost seemed to gravitate toward Jay’s lower half, like he had turned it into an art form. Sometimes, he almost leans into the ball instead of trying to back away:

But Jay does not crowd the plate. He simply doesn’t flinch away when the ball makes its way into the box. He may not be Brandon Guyer, but Jay has a strong familiarity with the HBP. In the graph below, I took a look at how many plate appearances it takes for the average player to get hit by a pitch (red line). Then I compared that data to how many plate appearances it took for Jon Jay to get hit by a pitch in the same year (blue line).

He has been consistently above-average by a wide margin. During his five seasons with the Cardinals (2011–15), Jon Jay ranked 2nd in baseball (and first in the National League) for total hits by pitch. He is 18 away from cracking the top-100 all-time.

There is a great article over at FanGraphs about Brandon Guyer’s HBP total, which points out:

Think of a hit by pitch. The average hit by pitch. Did you think elbow? You should’ve thought elbow.

That data, from 2015–16, got me wondering about my conversation at the ballpark, and whether Jon Jay’s backside actually matters all that much when it comes to hits by pitch. Why does he never seem to get hit on the elbow, where the majority of baseball’s HBPs occur? In 2015 and 2016, was Jon Jay most often hit on the butt?

Surprisingly, no.

Jon Jay HBPs — 2015

In 2015, Jay was hit by eleven pitches. On two separate occasions, he was hit by two pitches in the same game. (Those events occurred on May 5th against the Cubs and September 30th against the Pirates.)

Only one of the eleven pitches landed on his backside in 2015. He only flinched at two of the eleven. The first was on April 27th, which hit that part of the elbow you never want anything to hit. The second was his second HBP of the day on September 30th This is indicative of how much the HBP does not phase Jon Jay. He’s almost too chill about it, given where the pitches are hitting him.

Many of Jay’s hits by pitch occurred on his front leg, slightly above and below the knee. His butt didn’t have much to do with that total. However, ten of the eleven hits did occur on his lower half, so that portion of the stereotype remained accurate during the 2015 season.

Ten of the eleven pitches that hit Jon Jay in 2015 were thrown by right-handed pitchers. The only lefty to hit him was Travis Wood on May 4th, a pitch among the congregation of six HBPs on the right leg. Fun fact: Charlie Morton hit Jay three times in the month of September (once on the 5th and twice on the 30th). When he was hit by a pitch, the overwhelming odds are that it was thrown by a right-handed pitcher.

Jon Jay HBP — 2016

Last year was rough for Jon Jay. He was traded to the Padres, leaving me heartbroken and St. Louis without a veteran center fielder. He was hit by six pitches during the season, in which he barely amassed 200 plate appearances. Why? Because of HBP #4. On June 17th, Gio Gonzalez fractured Jay’s forearm with a pitch. (Boo. Hiss.)

At first I thought Jon Jay opened up his stance in 2016, which changed where the hits by pitch seemed to congregate. That is, in fact, not true. His right foot is a little further away from the plate than his left. This opens a lane to his back foot. Only one pitch made it to Jay’s back foot in 2015, but he was hit there three times last season in half as many HBPs. All the pitches that hit his back foot were thrown by right-handed pitchers, while those on his lower back, wrist, and butt were thrown by lefties.

Why?

While Brandon Guyer’s stride is what causes his HBP numbers to balloon, Jon Jay is proud a member of the Derek Dietrich “never bail” club. If a pitch is coming at him from the waist-down, Jon Jay is not going to move out of the way. This is why he is able to rack up so many HBPs. It’s primarily righties trying to throw inside who end up hitting him. The prime target used to be his backside, and has since shifted to the outer thigh in 2015 and the back foot in 2016. I’ll be sure to remember this next time my seat neighbor mentions Jon Jay’s butt.

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Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter @HighStarkSunday.