Sometimes the ball gets away from the pitcher and plunk! down goes the batter. It’s an accident. Other times, the pitcher aims with sniper intent towards the shin, rib, or noggin and plunk! down goes the batter.
Tim Wakefield hit 186 batters in his career (7th all time) and Charlie Hough nailed 174 (9th). Both were knuckle ball pitchers. A knuckle ball moves much slower than a fast ball and has no spin. No one, including the pitcher knows where the pitch will end up.
Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Nolan Ryan were not knuckle ball pitchers. They threw at speeds nearing 100 mph. Johnson plunked 190 batters (6th all time), Clemens 159 (11th), and Ryan 157 (12th). They were snipers.
Throwing high and tight and knocking batters on their ass is very much a part of the game. Pitchers play this chin music pushing batters back with an inside pitch and then paint the outside corner with the next. The batter can do nothing.
The pitcher has many of these psyche out tactics up his sleeve.
Pete Vukovich used to call time, walk around the mound, untuck his shirt, summon the equipment manager for a popsicle stick, chip dirt from his cleats. The umpire would hold his mind and sigh. Vuke would snarl and throw two more pitches, then signal to the dugout again, and ask for a new pair of shoes.
Vuke pitched 11 years on four different teams. He didn’t win 100 games, didn’t strike out many batters, but didn’t give up too many runs either . In 1982, he won 18 games. The Brewers offense helped with 216 home runs. Yet, Vuke also allowed 234 hits and 102 walks in 223 innings. That’s a lot of base runners he stranded out there.
I get the luck thing. The ball finds its way to fielder’s gloves for a few innings, maybe a game or two, but an entire season?
Vuke reached back for a little extra when he needed it most and/or found one more smoke and mirror like the unzipped fly tactic in the 82 World Series.