So Cole Hamels admitted to throwing at Bryce Harper (MLB Baby Jebus) and was suspended today by MLB for 5 games. The range of complaints starts with Nationals’ GM Rizzo who called Hamels “fake tough” to everybody and their alien half-brother calling for a much longer suspension. Naturally, some people out there will suggest that MLB should implement a much stricter policy regarding pitchers who hit batters purposely. In doing so, the villagers have gathered their pitchforks and smartphones to take up the quest to demand greater justice for men who play a kids game in matching pajamas.
Burning Hamels at the MLB stake does nothing for this cause for 2 reasons. He actually admitted to hitting Harper on purpose. If there is a right way to go about such things, at least he didn’t go head hunting. If there is a maturity issue for Hamels, this incident sure wasn’t the best proof in the world.
Relax about suspensions for pitchers for just a moment, please. I entreat you to consider the purpose of such suspensions and the current, albeit loose standards set for suspensions. While it is true that a 5 game suspension will not cause a starting pitcher to miss a start per se, it is worth noting that the intention is really just to prevent future incidents. A pitcher who intentionally hits a batter one time will put himself in the position of facing a stiffer fine/suspension as a repeat offender.
Sure, the monetary penalty will not cause too many players to lose sleep, but it does have an impact nonetheless. However, the real purpose of the fine is to make punishment for pitchers commensurate with punishments for hitters/position players. That’s the closest to a parallel justice system you can practically have when you are comparing players that play at varying intervals.
What about a platoon player who rushes the mound after what he perceives is a brush back pitch? If he only plays 80-85 games per season, then how do you dole out a suspension appropriate in length for what he has done? You simply cannot do this, because the same suspension should and does apply to the player who plays 158 games per season.
The system is assuredly imperfect. Losing a starting pitcher for 1 start (at the most) certainly does not have the same impact as losing a starting position player for 5 games. How then do you go about recalibrating the system properly to administer the equal justice so many people want and expect?
Create an easy to understand escalating scale for pitchers who hit batters. Use hit location, interpreted intent, retaliation, game situation, pitch velocity on a scale determined by the pitcher’s velocity range. Move the minimum suspension period to either 7 games or 8 days to prevent the pitcher from simply being pushed back by a day or so. If the batter is injured by the pitch, then consider that factor as well. Actually, time missed by the hitter could be used to lengthen the pitcher’s suspension by a game or two.
It’s not that I’m a fan of seeing guys get hit. I just don’t want MLB to completely take away the “brush back, put you in your place, welcome to the big leagues” approach that has been around as long as baseball has in its current form. If anything, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of it as long as it is done in good form. Throw something other than a fastball, and make sure that it sends the message. It doesn’t have to hit the guy, but if it does then the hit location should be something like the backside where the soft tissue will provide some cushion. Nothing should come even close to shoulder level. Provide some consistency, and that rookie fresh from AAA ball will know what to expect. Make it a right of passage without making it a freak show. It isn’t about starting a rivalry or anything bigger than just having a veteran indoctrinate a rookie into the game at the highest level. Such things used to be considered an honor bestowed by some of the best in the game on some of the newest, most talented players. Now it is practically casus belli.
TIDBIT: Before you get high and mighty about lengthening suspensions, keep in mind that Milton Bradly set a precedent by getting suspended for 7 games while attempting to fight nearly everyone in the ballpark after being hit by a pitch. If crazy Milton only got 7 games, then I find it difficult to advocate longer suspensions for less dangerous acts.
Follow gr33nazn on Twitter, because I’m the last person in the world you would expect to defend Cole Hamels!