HBP leaders wear heart on their sleeves

Plunkings prove hitters' value in taking one for the team

HBP leaders wear heart on their sleeves

Pirates catcher Russell Martin has been known as a great teammate throughout a Major League career that began in 2006 with the Dodgers, four years after they'd taken the Canadian native in the 17th round of the First-Year Player Draft out of Chipola College in Marianna, Fla.

Martin does all the little things that add up, from guiding a pitching staff to situational hitting to running the bases aggressively to ... getting plunked. That's right. Martin has been busy taking one for the team -- 13 in the body already this season, a career high, to lead the Majors in this painful category.

Following back-to-back substandard seasons in on-base percentage, Martin has a career-best rate of .419. Coupled with his .284 batting average and .393 slugging mark, he has a .812 OPS, approaching his best of .843 seven years ago with the Dodgers, when he had 19 homers and 21 steals.

Martin's 13 plunkings have come in 266 plate appearances. His previous career high of 11 with the 2009 Dodgers came in 588 plate appearances.

The Pirates have three of the six leaders in this less-than-glamorous category. Neil Walker and Starling Marte each have been hit by pitches 11 times, tying Carlos Gomez, Shin-Soo Choo and Matt Holliday for second.

Derek Dietrich, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Ruiz and Mike Zunino each have been nailed 10 times.

Choo, now with the Rangers, led the Majors last year for the Reds in getting hit 26 times, two more than Marte.

The active leader in getting plunked is Jason Giambi, with 180. Next is the technically active Alex Rodriguez with 169. Among the truly active, Derek Jeter (167) holds a slight edge over Chase Utley (164).

"It's part of the game," Jeter said, giving it his customarily concise perspective. "My job is to get on base."

Utley has led the National League three times in getting hit by pitches with a high of 27 in 2008. Jeter has a season high of 14 ('04, '07), and he has not led the American League.

Most batters who get hit frequently crowd the plate and hang in late on pitches. Giambi, A-Rod, Jeter and Utley, men who can break up a game with one swing, are the kinds of hitters who tend to get backed off the plate with inside heaters.

Players who have been hit by more pitches than they've launched over fences can safely be classified as guys who don't mind sacrificing the body to take one (base) for the sake of the team.

Hughie Jennings, a human big league pin-cushion from 1891 to 1918, was hit a record 287 times with a high of 51 in 1896. Jennings, who was 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, had 18 career homers.

Modern leader Craig Biggio fell two short of Jennings. Getting hit 285 times, the Astros' star led the NL five times, with a high of 34 in 1997. He was a threat, producing 291 home runs among his 3,060 hits.

Don Baylor, the Angels' hitting coach who graced six teams, is fourth all-time in getting drilled, 267 times. He led his league eight times, with a high of 35 for the 1986 Red Sox. Groove unloaded 338 homers.

One of Baylor's role models, Frank Robinson, daringly crouched on top of the plate and got nailed 198 times -- leading the league seven times -- while launching 586 home runs.

Here's a look at players of recent generations who are Jennings' inheritors in their fearless, team-first natures. Their HBP/HR ratios show clearly where their hearts have been: on their sleeves.

Jason Kendall
A gung-ho catcher for 15 seasons with five clubs, Kendall was hit by pitches 254 times, fifth all time, while producing 75 home runs. He was hit 31 times in consecutive seasons, 1997-98, while catching for the Pirates. There must be something about that Pittsburgh uniform that angers pitchers. Age didn't deter Kendall. He was hit 17 times at 35 in 2009 for the Brewers, a year before reluctantly retiring as a Royal.

Ron Hunt
Right behind Kendall on the all-time list after getting hit 243 times, Hunt was the NL leader seven consecutive seasons (1968-1974) while playing for the Giants, Expos and, briefly, the Cardinals. A solid second baseman who put the hard in hard-nosed, Hunt was hit a personal high 50 times for the '71 Expos. He hit 39 career homers. The guy was driven to set the table, even if it damaged him.

Fernando Vina
Not much of a target at 5-9 and 170 pounds, the classy second baseman managed to get hit by pitches 157 times, 19th all-time. Vina did this while producing just 40 lifetime home runs, never more than nine in a season. He led the NL getting hit 28 times in 2000 for the Cardinals and the abbreviated 1994 season for the Mets with 12. He was hit 25 times for the '98 Brewers.

David Eckstein
An even smaller target than Vina at 5-6 and 170 pounds, Eckstein was hit by pitches 143 times while hitting 35 career home runs. The resourceful, clutch-hitting shortstop led the AL his first two seasons with the Angels, getting hit 21 and 27 times in 2001 and '02, respectively. A champion with the '02 Angels and '06 Cardinals, winning the World Series Most Valuable Player Award for the Cards, Eckstein was hit by seven pitches in 44 postseason games. Just win, baby -- even if it hurts.

Nellie Fox
Another little guy (5-10, 160) with a big heart, Fox was hit 142 times by pitches while delivering 35 career homers. He led the AL with 17 plunkings with the 1955 White Sox, and he took 10 pitches to the body in his final regular season with the '64 Astros at 35.

Reed Johnson
A gritty, 5-10, 190-pound outfielder now with the Marlins after spending most of his 12-year career with the Blue Jays and Cubs, Johnson has gotten in the way of 130 pitches while going deep 65 times. He led the AL with 21 for the 2006 Jays, scoring a career-best 86 runs. Even more impressive were Johnson's 20 times hit by pitches and 79 runs scored in just 114 games in his '03 rookie season in Toronto.

Juan Pierre
One of the fastest and hardest-working players of his time, Pierre was hit by pitches 102 times while registering 18 home runs in 14 seasons. The center fielder led the AL in 2010 for the White Sox in getting hit by 21 pitches while stealing a league-best 68 bags.

Notable pitchers who hit hitters frequently
Walter Johnson, 205; Randy Johnson and Eddie Plank, 190; Tim Wakefield, 186; Charlie Hough, 174; Cy Young, 161; Jim Bunning, 160; Roger Clemens, 159; Nolan Ryan, 158; Bert Blyleven, 155; Don Drysdale and active leader Jamey Wright, 154; Pedro Martinez, 141; Kevin Brown, 139; Greg Maddux, 137; A.J. Burnett, 125; Tim Hudson, 115; John Lackey, 107; Bronson Arroyo, 103; Bob Gibson, 102.

At least Wakefield and Hough didn't hurt anybody with their knuckleballs.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.