Major League Baseball has issued suspensions to Hunter Strickland of the Giants and Bryce Harper of the Nationals in the wake of their brawl yesterday. The sentences: Strickland has received a six-game suspension, Harper four games.
Earlier today I wrote that the brawl itself was dumb and that, if Major League Baseball issued typical suspensions for such things, they too would be making a big mistake. Welp, they did it. These suspensions are misguided, do not reflect the level of culpability of Strickland and Harper and, worst of all, encourage pitchers to throw at hitters in the future.
Hunter Strickland is a relief pitcher who, over the course of six games, may pitch 2-3 innings. Harper is an everyday player who, over the course of four games, will patrol the outfield for 36 innings and have 20 plate appearances. So, already, Harper is missing more action, even if he’s missing fewer games, and the Nats are being punished far more greatly by Harper’s absence than the Giants are by Strickland’s.
What’s more, as I argued this morning, Strickland’s act — nursing a dumb three-year grudge and then intentionally throwing a fastball at Harper with the intention to hurt him and at the extreme risk of hurting him badly if his aim was off — was worse than Harper’s. No, Harper should not have charged the mound and thrown his helmet, but the man was provoked and every sensible justice system on the planet treats premeditated acts of violence more harshly than ones driven by the heat of the moment. Not MLB’s, apparently.
Finally, this creates a bad incentive: the incentive to throw at opposing superstars, much like hockey enforcers go after opposing scorers. It may not be great for you to lose your relief pitcher by throwing at a guy, but if you get lucky and elicit a reaction that causes your opponent to lose their superstar for a more meaningful period, hey, it’s worth a shot right? Far-fetched? Maybe. But the creation of a bad incentive is not excused simply because the likelihood of it being taken advantage of is low. It’s still dumb policy.
Harper and Strickland’s suspensions were scheduled to be effective tonight, when the clubs are to continue their series in San Francisco. Both players have elected to appeal, however, so they’ll both be available. So that’s probably a game worth tuning into.