What Is a Hit by Pitch in Baseball? The Ultimate Guide

A view of the Phillies Stadium from the upper deck.

In baseball, it’s not unusual to be afraid of being hit by an incoming pitch. When you consider that most professional pitchers are throwing a baseball toward home plate at nearly 100 miles per hour, you can understand why. So…

What does a hit by pitch entail in baseball?

A hit by a pitch occurs when a batter is struck by a pitch and doesn’t attempt to swing at the baseball. When the ball makes contact with any part of the batter’s body, uniform, or protective gear (other than the bat), the result is the batter being awarded a free pass to first base.

While the overwhelming percentage of pitches do not hit the batter during a typical baseball game, mistakes happen. Generally, batters are hit by a pitch because the pitcher is throwing a pitch inside and simply misses in the direction of the hitter.

Even though it occurs infrequently, there are some things to consider about being hit by a pitch, so that you can be prepared for it when it happens.  

What Happens When a Batter is Hit by a Pitch?

If a batter is struck by the baseball, first the umpire, manager, or even the player themselves must determine that there has been no serious injury to the player. The reason that a batter is required to wear a helmet is to minimize the impact of a speeding baseball when it is thrown toward the batter.

Once the batter has been determined to be all right, the umpire must determine if the batter met the proper conditions of being hit by a pitch:

  • The batter must have not attempted to swing at the ball.  
  • The batter must have made a valid attempt to avoid the thrown pitch. (This condition is rarely called by umpires)
  • The pitch was out of the strike zone.

These conditions include ensuring that the batter was standing in the batter’s box and was not impeding the pitch by leaning or stepping into the strike zone.

A batter who deliberately leans into a pitch to be hit has not attempted to avoid the pitch. This pitch will be considered a ball or a strike.

Just as serious as a pitch thrown directly and intentionally at a batter, this kind of pitch can result in warnings being issued to both teams and even the disqualification of the pitcher and/or the manager at the umpire’s discretion.

If conditions for a hit by pitch are met, the ball is considered dead. The batter is awarded first base. Any runners on base are allowed to advance if the base behind them was occupied. If there are runners on second and third, but the first base is open, the runners do not advance, and the batter is allowed to occupy first base.

A hit by pitch is not considered to be an at-bat, but the batter/runner is recorded to have had time on base, and should the HBP result in a runner from third advancing to home plate, the hit batsman is credited with a run batted in (RBI).

Hit by Pitch MLB Rules

There are a few things to remember concerning when a batter gets hit. According to Rule 5.05b, three conditions must be met for a batter to be considered to be a hit batsman:

  • A batter must have made a concerted effort to avoid being hit by the baseball. (Or not have had an opportunity to avoid the pitch).
  • The batter did not attempt to swing at the pitch.
  • The pitch was outside of the strike zone.

Should these conditions be met, the ball is considered dead, and the batter will advance to first base. Any runners on base will advance should the base behind them be occupied.

A hit by a pitch can happen even if the pitch hits the ground before hitting the batter. The batter must attempt to avoid the pitch, and the ball must be outside the strike zone.

When Is a Batter Awarded First Base?

The batter is awarded first base when the ball makes contact with any part of the batter’s body, uniform, or protective equipment and no attempt has been made to swing at the pitch

When Is a Batter Not Awarded First Base?

If the batter swings at the baseball, the pitch is counted as a strike and the batter is not allowed to go to first base, even if the pitch hits him.

How Often Are Batters Hit Unintentionally?

A batter gets hit unintentionally.

Most of the time, batters are hit because of an inside pitch that misses toward the batter. Like any other sport, mistakes happen, and the ball can slip as it comes out of the pitcher’s hand. In MLB, according to Baseballreference.com, 2,112 batters were hit out of a total of 161,941 at-bats in the 2021 season.

While this seems like a small number, statistics show that the rate batters are hit is increasing dramatically. According to Baseball-Reference, the 2020 and 2021 seasons saw an increased rate of hit batters, averaging .92 hit batters per game.

There are two primary reasons for this increasing rate. Part of the issue is that more emphasis is being placed on pitchers who throw harder. Not surprisingly, wild pitches have also increased in the past several years.

Another reason for the increased rate is that batters are wearing more and more protective equipment. Shin guards and elbow padding provide more confidence for batters to stand in the batter’s box and take an inside pitch, thereby getting hit more often.

When Would a Team Hit a Batter?

There should never be a time when a pitcher intentionally throws a pitch at a batter. However, there have been incidents when a pitcher decides or is told to hit a batter in retaliation for a previous grievance.

This is a very dangerous play because a baseball traveling 90+ MPH can do serious damage. Umpires are also required to give warnings or even ejections should they suspect that the batter was intentionally hit.

Does a Hit by Pitch Count as an At Bat?

No, a hit by a pitch does not count as an at-bat. Once the batter reaches first base, he becomes a runner and all regular rules for runners apply.

Does a Hit by Pitch Count as a Walk?

No, even though the effect is the same, the hit by a pitch is not scored as a walk.

Does a Bouncing Pitch Count As a Hit By Pitch?

Yes, a player is awarded first when they’re hit by a bouncing pitch.

Hit by Pitch Stats

In the 2021 season, the players who were hit the most in the MLB were Ty France of the Seattle Mariners, and Mark Canha of the New York Mets, who both were hit 27 times.

This is the 2021 list of the top 10 players who led the MLB in being hit:

PlayerHBP Total
1. Ty France • SEA 27
Mark Canha • OAK 27
3. Jonathan India • CIN 23
Anthony Rizzo • CHI/NYY 23
5. Jose Abreu • CHW 22
6. Will Smith • LAD 18
Kyle Farmer • CIN 18
Josh Harrison • WSN/OAK 18
9. Edmundo Sosa • STL 17
10. Victor Robles • WSN 16

The pitcher who has thrown the most hit by pitches during the 2021 season was Austin Adams of the San Diego Padres with 24.

The team who recorded the most hit batsmen were the Cincinnati Reds with 105 batters hit, according to baseballreference.com.

Justin Bench of the University of Mississippi leads the college ranks in being hit with 29 in 65 games during the 2021 season.

Hit by Pitch Records

The player who was hit the most in his career was Hughie Jennings at 287. Jennings played for Baltimore Orioles for several years, including the teams that were National League champions in 1894-96.

He left Baltimore and played for the Brooklyn Superbas for a time, including the National League champion teams in the 1899 and 1900 seasons.

The Brooklyn franchise would eventually change its name to the Brooklyn Dodgers and then relocate to the West Coast to become the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1957.

Jennings finished his career as the manager of the Detroit Tigers in 1920 and retired from baseball in 1925.

This is the all-time list for players who have been hit the most:

  1. Hughie Jennings (287)
  2. Craig Biggio (285)
  3. Tommy Tucker (272)
  4. Don Baylor (267)
  5. Jason Kendall (254)
  6. Ron Hunt (243)
  7. Dan McGann (230)
  8. Chase Utley (204)
  9. Frank Robinson (198)
  10. Minnie Minoso (195)

MLB Single Game Hit by Pitch Record

The record for being hit by a pitch in a single game is 3 and has occurred several times. The record for most hit by pitches thrown is held by Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators with 205.

Can a Hit by Pitch Cause Serious Injury?

Most injuries caused by a hit by pitch are minor and include the hand or fingers (21%), head/face (17%), and the elbow/arm (15.7%). About 5% of all hit by pitches result in concussions, according to a 2018 report.

The Most Serious Hit by Pitch Injuries

The most serious injury to occur from a hit by a pitch in the major leagues involved Ray Chapman, who was hit by a pitch from Carlos May in 1920. The pitch hit Chapman in the head and he died 12 hours later from the injury.

The incident forced MLB to ban spitballs and to require the umpire to replace a ball anytime it gets dirty. Chapman’s death also was a factor in the MLB requiring batters to wear batting helmets, although it would take nearly 30 years for them to implement the rule.

How Can a Hit by Pitch Injury Affect a Baseball Career?

There have been several incidents of broken jaws and cheekbones, as well as loss of vision. Many players who’ve been hit in the face have had significant vision loss according to bleacherreport.com, with recovery times ranging from days to weeks. Mickey Cochrane was hit by a pitch in 1937 that left him unconscious for 10 days and forced him to retire from baseball completely.

What Kind of Protective Gear Is Needed for Batters?

The biggest piece of protective equipment is the batting helmet, which protects the head and part of the face from impact. Today, more players are wearing elbow and shin guards to protect their arms and legs. A batter should never step into the box without a helmet on at the very least.

Where Can I Get a Batting Helmet and Other Protective Gear?

Most protective gear can be purchased at a local sporting goods store. According to littleleague.org, each league is required to supply catcher’s protective gear, bats, and batting helmets (a minimum of 5) for players to use.

Is Protective Baseball Equipment Expensive?

Most protective gear is relatively inexpensive, ranging from $20-$70 for a batting helmet. Elbow and shin guards can vary in price depending on who makes them.

A Final Thought About Hit by Pitches

While being hit by a pitch is a part of the game of baseball, the emphasis is on the safety and protection of the players. The idea of intentionally throwing directly at a player should never be coached or encouraged.

If a baseball hits a player in the head, the player should be checked for any signs of a concussion before being allowed to return to play

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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