When the Rays traded Brandon Guyer to the Cleveland Indians on Monday, they didn’t just lose a part-time outfielder. They traded a man in quiet pursuit of baseball immortality.
In Tampa Bay, we have been witnesses since 2011. Now we’ll have to watch from afar.
Those of us who have followed Guyer haven’t been so much interested in how hard he hit the ball or how far he hit it. No, we appreciated him for how many times he got hit by it, how he kept coming back for more and how he never, ever budged.
As a Ray, Guyer stepped into the batter’s box 978 times, and 58 times he was hit by a pitch.
That’s once every 17 plate appearances — by far the highest rate in Major League history.
Usually, he simply stood and let the ball hit him. On occasion, he would start to spin ever so slightly, if only to give the appearance that he was trying to get out of the way.
“I’ve never seen anybody do it better,” Rays television analyst Brian Anderson said.
That’s because no one has done it better. Not Ron Hunt. Not Don Baylor. Not Craig Biggio.
This season, Guyer has been hit more frequently than ever: once every 11 plate appearances and a Major League-leading 23 times. At his current pace, he’ll approach Don Baylor’s 1986 American League record of 35 HBPs. But Baylor, the league MVP in 1979, played every inning, every day. He got to 35 in 679 plate appearances. Guyer, who missed a month because of a hamstring injury, could get there in 380.
He has been hit at least four times as much as anyone else on the Rays. He’s been hit as much as the rest of the Rays combined. He’s been hit more often than the Milwaukee Brewers roster. He is tied with his new team in Cleveland.
Twenty-five times he’s been hit by a pitch traveling at least 90 mph. He has been hit seven times in the elbow. Fifteen times in the thigh. Six times in the knee.
If you sit in the same dugout as Guyer, his extremely literal interpretation of “taking one for the team” is admirable. Asked about his friend and former teammate, Chris Archer brought it up unprompted.
“Every day he comes ready to play, ready to play hard,” he said. That Guyer has been hit so much more than anybody else “just tells you the type of player he is.”
If you’re in the other dugout, it’s an annoyance. Back in April, the Red Sox protested when Guyer caught inside pitches with his body three times. Early in the game, manager John Farrell argued that Guyer made little effort to get out of the way. Later, David Price, in disbelief after a 94 mph cut fastball struck Guyer on the elbow, yelled, “That’s right over the plate.”
Replays show the ball was just off the plate. It could’ve been a ball. It could’ve been strike three. Instead, a grimacing Guyer took his base. Soon after, Price came undone, and Farrell pulled him from the game.
Guyer has firmly denied that he tries to get hit. But on the day he was traded, he leaned as close to an admission as he ever has, telling FanGraphs, “I’m just trying to get on for the big boppers behind me. I’ll take one for the team any day.”
By hitting or getting hit, Guyer absolutely torments left-handed pitchers (when facing them this season, he has reached base half the time). In general, though, he doesn’t hit for much power and he rarely walks, so getting hit by pitches is how he stays in the lineup. Take away his 23 bases on bruises this season and his on-base percentage drops from .353 to .289.
After that April day at Fenway, you’d think when Price and Guyer met again in July that Price would take extra care to not hit Guyer. But the first time Guyer came to bat, Price refused to cede the inside part of the plate.
As the 2-2 pitch left Price’s hand, Guyer took his usual stride and planted his foot on the chalk of the batter’s box, leaving his opponent no room for error.
It is in moments like this you realize why he can be so compelling to watch. Many would stay as far away as possible from a 95 mph fastball. Guyer stands in there, again and again and again.
The pitch glanced off his belt. He tossed his bat, put his head down and jogged to first.
We’ve seen it dozens of times. He’ll be hit dozens more.
Too bad it won’t be in a Rays uniform.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.