Should MLB Tie Suspensions To Injury Length?

You’ve almost certainly heard the news by now – last night, Zack Greinke hit Carlos Quentin with a pitch, Quentin charged the mound, and in the course of the scuffle, Greinke suffered a broken collarbone. While a timetable hasn’t been released yet, he’s headed for the disabled list, and the question is how many months of the season he’ll miss due to the injury.

In the wake of the news, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly offered up the following sentiment:

“That’s just stupid is what it is,” Mattingly said. “He should not play a game until Greinke can pitch. If he plays before Greinke pitches, something’s wrong. He caused the whole thing. Nothing happens if he goes to first base.”

Mattingly isn’t the first to suggest that the suspension for a player who injures another player should be equal in length to that player’s injury, as the notion passes our internal sense of fairness. Why should a guy who puts another player’s health in jeopardy get to keep playing while the guy who he injured has to sit on the sidelines? That’s not fair.

However, as much as I’d like to support Mattingly’s idea, I just can’t. There are simply too many subjective elements to make such a proposal actually work.

The first problem is determination of intent. I’m going to make the assumption that Mattingly wouldn’t want a player suspended for accidentally injuring someone. There are non-intentional hit-by-pitches, and they do cause damage. If a pitcher misses inside and it happens to break a player’s hand or wrist, it sucks, but it’s also part of baseball. Last night, Michael Morse got hit by two pitches in the same at-bat — he was judged to have swung at the first, which turned out to be the one that broke his pinky finger — and had to leave the game. The diagnosis is that he’ll be out for 3-7 days.

Even though he was beaned twice in a short period of time, there didn’t appear to be any intent on the part of Tanner Scheppers. Scheppers wasn’t ejected, and no is calling for him to miss any time, because we’re all assuming that it was an accident. But, the reality is, we never really know whether it was or not. Pitchers will say “it just got away”, just like Greinke did last night, but clearly Quentin did not share that belief. MLB could legislate away dugout clearing brawls or collisions at home plate if they wanted to, but they’ll never be able to rid themselves of the HBP, and a large percentage of position player injuries are caused by getting hit with a pitch.

Simply from a logistical standpoint, trying to determine whether an HBP is intentional — and thus should be subject to a suspension — or accidental is already problematic, and that’s without adding the injury component to the mix. Making each HBP a source of potential suspension, based upon whether outside parties could judge the motivations of the pitcher’s intent, is simply a setup for arbitrary decisions that make everyone unhappy.

Even if we just limited the suspensions to injuries related to fights, MLB would be tasked with sorting out a litany of variables, trying to determine cause from a multitude of effects. If a player charges the mound and then a third party causes an injury to one of the players involved in the scuffle, who gets penalized? The player who charged? The guy who actually caused the injury? Both?

That’s not even getting into the issue of individual healing times. If a pitcher hit Nick Johnson on purpose, that might end up being a suspension for life, as quickly as that guy returned from injury. Some guys are more brittle than others. Should getting in a fight with Franklin Gutierrez result in a harsher punishment than going after Austin Jackson, simply because Gutierrez is missing whatever gene allows human beings to stay healthy?

If we were omniscient beings that could divine the motivations of individuals and were able to determine exactly what happened in the midst of a giant scrum of large human beings, then perhaps Mattingly’s proposal would work. Given the limited knowledge that people on the outside of the situation can actually have, however, it would end up as one giant guessing game, and the unequal distribution of penalties would be just as much of a source of outrage as the current setup.

I will wholeheartedly agree with Mattingly that it is unfair that Quentin will miss a handful of games while Greinke will miss significant time. I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that MLB should dramatically increase the length of suspension for charging the mound and do more to dissuade teams from using HBPs as a source of enforcement of the game’s unwritten rules. However, I don’t see a tenable solution to actually tying a player’s stint on the disabled list to the suspension of the person who may have been involved in putting him there.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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