I heard an interview with Reggie Jackson and Bob Gibson (former baseball greats) on NPR’s Fresh Air this weekend.  They spent a lot of time talking about pitching inside and “brushing back” hitters.  Reggie Jackson, a hitter, conceded that these were “part of the game.”

There is a mundane sense in which this is true, namely that not even the best pitcher has flawless control and sometimes batters get hit.  But Reggie was even talking about intentional beanballs.  In what sense is this part of the game?

The penalty for throwing inside is that, if you hit the batter, he gets a free base.  (And your teammate might get beaned at the next opportunity.)  The problem is that this penalty trigger is partly controlled by the opposition.  Other things equal it gives the batter an incentive to stand a bit closer to the plate.  In order to discourage this, the pitcher must establish a reputation for throwing inside when a batter crowds the plate.  In that sense, intentionally throwing at the hitter is unavoidable strategy, part of the game.

So, one way to short-circuit this effect is to change the condition for giving a free base to something that is exogenous, i.e. independent of  any choice made by the batter.  For example, the batter gets a free base any time the ball sails more than some fixed distance inside of the plate, whether or not it actually hits the batter.  Modern technology could certainly detect this with minimal error.