The Giants and Nationals celebrated Memorial Day on Monday by getting into a brawl at AT&T Park. Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, apparently still smarting from a couple of playoff home runs three years ago, intentionally threw a 98 MPH fastball at the hip of Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. Harper took offense to that, so he came out, slung his helmet and went after Strickland. The two were able to throw a couple of punches before both benches reached the mound and both players were pulled away.
Both Strickland and Harper are looking at fines and suspensions of at least several games based on historical precedent. The thing is, there aren’t that many brawls and baseball has only recently started focusing on player safety. One of the closest comparisons is the Zack Greinke/Carlos Quentin brouhaha from 2013 in which Quentin broke Greinke’s collarbone. Quentin was suspended eight games; Greinke none, of course. Manny Machado was only suspended four games last year after charging Yordano Ventura. And as Jayson Stark points out, no reliever has been suspended longer than six games since Doug Brocail (seven) in 2004.
Harper’s agent Scott Boras thinks his client should get a lesser penalty compared to others who have charged the mound. Boras thinks that Harper’s lack of “notice of provocation” left him with no choice but to defend himself proactively. Via Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:
In this situation, there is nothing prior between the clubs, no notice to the player, just a paroxysm of rage, self-centered behavior that was out of bounds. This wasn’t about a player’s team. It was about a self-centered act.
Major League Baseball cannot allow this to be a County Fair duck shoot — ‘Here, I’m going to do something for myself.’ Because of that immediate sense of fear a player has when someone throws the ball 100 mph at him, his response is not any way like it normally is when you have a notice of provocation.
(Harper’s) response was an act of fear … a moment of reaction to a dangerous stimulus. He was unmindful and unaware … It’s very different from a player who is aware of a situation where immediate and or current previous acts of provocation have occurred.
Of course, Boras should be expected to defend his client, but he also has a point. Strickland’s grudge was from several years ago during a playoff series the Giants eventually won, during a postseason that ultimately resulted in a championship. Harper faced the Giants in 2015 and ’16 with no retaliation whatsoever, so he was certainly not wrong if he believed that any bad feelings stemming from his gawking at a pair of playoff home runs had dissipated.
Because starting pitchers are only used once every five games and relievers tend to only pitch in one out of every two or three games on average, there is not enough of an incentive for players to put aside their bruised egos and throw at the plate rather than the offending player. Meanwhile, batters who play every day miss four games on the low end, which would be the equivalent of 20-24 games to a starting pitcher or 8-12 games for a reliever. Pitchers are the ones in the driver’s seat when it comes to prolonging these immature battles and their punishments aren’t in proportion to other guilty parties. Until that happens, intentional beanings will continue to be a thing, and batters’ safety will continue to be in jeopardy. Commissioner Rob Manfred helped implement the “Chase Utley rule” to protect infielders attempting to turn double plays. He should be similarly proactive in protecting batters from 90+ MPH baseballs which threaten their livelihood.
Craig went over his own reasoning earlier as to why Strickland should be punished more harshly than Harper.