MORGANTOWN W.Va. – When a team is leading the conference standings, some will say that the team may have a metaphorical “target on their back.” Upon closer analysis of Big 12 statistics, conference-leading West Virginia takes that phrase to a literal level.

While baseballs are flying off WVU bats at an exceedingly-high rate, the players are also wearing their fair share of fastballs in the batter’s box. After game one of the Texas series, the Mountaineers have been hit by more pitches (96) this year than any other season in program history, and they are leading the Big 12 in the category by a vast margin; TCU sits below WVU at No. 2 with 71 hit-by-pitches.

WVU has tallied over 80 hit batsmen only two other times in program history: 2009 with 89 hit-by-pitches, and 2011 with 83.

As a result, WVU – who has a lower team batting average than Texas Tech – is tied at the top of the Big 12 on-base percentage standings with the Red Raiders (both teams at .421). WVU also does not walk as much as Texas Tech, Kansas State or Oklahoma.

Dayne Leonard (19, leader), Tevin Tucker (15, second), and Landon Wallace (14, tied-third) are the conference’s leaders in hit-by-pitches. Texas Tech’s Nolen Hester (14, tied-third) and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Brown (14, tied-third) are the only other players in the conference with more than 12.

If it hurts, the Mountaineers aren’t showing it.

“[Leonard is] one of the toughest kids ever,” head coach Randy Mazey said last season. “I didn’t know this at the time [we were recruiting him], but he was a hockey player growing up. And I’ve got a fondness for hockey players. Had I not known that I probably could guess that, because of the way he is.”

Leonard sits at No. 2 in program history behind Jeremy Gum, who wore 23 pitches in 2011. Tucker is tied at No. 6, and Wallace is tied at No. 8 with Gum’s 2011 teammate Chris Rasky.

Wallace is no stranger to getting plunked. Last year at Nevada, he took 16 pitches off the body for free bases, while registering 207 plate appearances. He collected two more hit-by-pitches in seventeen fewer plate appearances (224) than he has taken this year, though, he still has two more games to play in the regular season, plus the postseason.

Leonard and Tuckers’ numbers are a bit more surprising. Leonard has seen a 60.9% increase in plate appearances from last season to this year, but his hit-by-pitch total is up 111% from his 2022 total of nine pitches-worn. Tucker is following a similar trend. While his plate appearances are up 19.6%, he has more-than doubled his hit by pitch total from six to 14. That is a disproportionate 133.3% increase in hit-by-pitches.

Is it just a coincidence? That is likely the case, as teams typically do not like awarding free bases at that high of a rate. The Mountaineers will not complain. Ice, cherry juice and maybe some pretzels should alleviate the pain.