Yordano Ventura could probably kill someone with his fastball.
Should he? No. It would be very bad for the game of baseball if Yordano Ventura killed someone with a fastball straight to the head. A lot of people would get upset and some of them would go to jail.
But that’s not the point. When you talk about retaliation – as has come up so many times in the first two weeks of the season – you don’t want to go so far as to kill someone. You just want to send a message. And if Ventura has the power to kill someone, he certainly has the power to send that message.
The question is, what message do the Royals want to send?
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There are a few things to understand about retaliation and the perceived slights from other teams.
Most of these incidents are not intentional
But beyond that, there’s nothing to indicate that the rest of the 13 HBPs for the Royals are any more than mistakes.
Mike Moustakas, for example, has been hit several times this season. Most of those were the result of pitchers trying to pitch him inside. If you’re trying hard to force pitches inside, it’s completely rational to expect some of those to miss and potentially hit the batter.
Up until Lawrie’s slide, Alex Rios’ HBP was perhaps the most upsetting thing to happen to the Royals this year. But that one was clearly a mistake.
Here’s the Rios hit-by-pitch:
Look at the situation:
1. The bases are loaded. Hitting a batter with a pitch means walking in a run.The Twins are still in this game. It's only 5-3. They could get out of this inning. But not if they hit a batter.
2. It’s a rookie pitcher. This means two things. One, he’s inexperienced, and it’s easy for a pitch to get away from him – exactly what happened here. Two, a rookie isn’t going to want to hit a guy. Especially with the bases loaded. It's not good for his career.
3. The bases are loaded. Thought I’d reiterate this one.
Should we be unhappy that Rios was hit by a pitch and had to go on the DL? Absolutely. But should we retaliate for that? Not at all. It was clearly an accident, like most of the Royals’ HBPs this year. You don’t retaliate for every HBP, even if there’s been an unusual amount to this point in the season.
Which brings us to point two:
The Royals aren’t alone.
The Royals do lead the league in HBPs, but they’re not alone on top – the Rangers have also been hit 13 times.
If you’re a conspiracy theorist and want to believe the Royals have been unfairly targeted because of their success, well, this should convince you otherwise. As much as other teams might want to put the Royals in their place… the Rangers are the Rangers.
No one’s jealous of the Rangers. Nobody’s particularly upset that they lost 95 games last year. Except the Rangers. And the Rangers can’t hit themselves with pitches.
Hit-by-pitches are up throughout the league this year. Obviously, it’s a small sample size this early in the season, but the jump in the stat so far this year is large enough to note.
There have been 0.41 HBPs per game so far this year. If that continues through the end of the year, it will have been the highest number since 1900. That stat also means the batters are being hit at twice the rate they were throughout most of the 20th century.
The past 25 years have seen a gradual increase in HBPs, peaking in 2001 with a rate of 0.39 per game. The numbers are beginning to trend upwards again, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a particular high rate again this year.
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This doesn’t mean the Royals shouldn’t fight back. It’s important for the Royals to show that they won’t be pushed around.
Some people might want the Royals to allow themselves to keep getting hit and taking free bases. That’s not the best strategy, as Rios and person-paid-to-write-about-sports Lee Judge can attest:
I’m not a fan of the retaliation strategy, either. There’s a difference between standing up for your team and "retaliating." Retaliating often puts your side at a disadvantage.
It can, in some cases, lead to ejections.
Hitting a batter gives him a free base, and as we saw multiple times in the White Sox series, those can often turn into runs.
Even sliding in high, like Lawrie did, can have negative consequences. Lawrie would’ve been safe had he slid in normally. He got to the bag before the ball. But because he slid high and late, he came off the base and Escobar was able to fall on him tag him out.
The Royals can still let other teams know they won’t be pushed around without resorting to retaliation. In fact, they’re already doing it.
Ventura is fiery in more ways than one. Even though he’s several inches shorter and many pounds lighter than Mike Trout, the supposed Lord and Savior of Baseball, he’s not afraid to pick a fight with him.
We saw it again last night, when Salvador Perez led the rest of the Royals all the way out to second base in defense of Alcides Escobar. The Royals will not be pushed around. They won’t necessarily retaliate, but they’re going to play with an edge, an energy, and an enthusiasm that will be tough to match.
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After Montreal Canadiens defenseman slashed Ottawa Senators rookie Mark Stone (and broke Stone’s wrist) in the first game of their playoff series, ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose was asked if the Senators should retaliate.
The best retaliation, Melrose said, was winning the series.
Dave Cameron, the Senators’ coach – presumably not the Prime Minister – suggested instead that if Subban isn’t suspended, the Senators players would go after him and try to retaliate.
The Senators would lose the next game are now in a deep hole in their first-round series.
The best retaliation is winning, and right now, the Royals are doing plenty of that. They’ve done it more than any other team except the one in the AL Central we won’t mention.
If you truly want revenge, then root for the Royals to continue playing with that energetic edge – and root for them to continue winning.
At the end of the season, it doesn’t matter who got hit with what. What matters is who’s still playing in October and who isn’t.