Saturday, April 13, 2013

Comment: An Ugly Side of Baseball

One of the uglier aspects of baseball, a sport that is comparatively safe in terms of contact and injury, is the fact that almost every pitcher in the game holds a potentially lethal weapon in his hand and the potential to "accidently" use it on every play.  I say almost every pitcher because it is hard to imagine Barry Zito so much as hurting anyone with anything he throws, but 95% of pitchers in baseball throw harder than Barry Zito.

It is a fact of life that to be a successful major league pitcher, you have to be willing to occasionally remind certain hitters that you do have that lethal weapon and would be willing to use it if they don't respect it.  It is a standard part of baseball pitching strategy to occasionally throw some "chin music" AKA brushback pitch up there.  I mean, they didn't nickname Sal Maglie "The Barber" for nothing.

I remember attending the infamous Giants-Dodgers game where Steve Finley hit the walk-off grand slam.  The irony of that game is it might have been the best game Brett Tomko pitched as a Giant, maybe in his career.  Late in that game, Adrian Beltre was leaning over the plate a little too much and Tomko threw a pitch up and in that sent Beltre bailing out so hard he was flat on the ground.  Next pitch was a slider down and away that Beltre had no chance on.  Huge strikeout.  A Dodger fan sitting next to me murmured that it was great pitching.  He understood the science of the game and knew it was part of good pitching strategy.

Carlos Quentin is a very good major league hitter, at least when he is healthy, at least in part because he has taught himself to be not afraid of the lethal weapon in the pitcher's hands.  Quentin went to college at Stanford.  Stanford is well known to teach it's hitters how to get hit by pitches in order to 1.  Get on base and 2. Force pitchers to throw pitches in locations more favorable to the hitters.  Quentin has carried that ethic over into his MLB career.  There was even a SI or BA article about it a few years ago, can't remember which one, but I remember the article.  

I have no problem with what Quentin is doing up at the plate.  It's within the rules of the game and if he's willing to take the punishment in return for the gain, he certainly has a right to.  Kudos to him for finding a way to win.  I do have a problem with him doing that and then charging the mound when he gets hit.  Come on dude!  If you are up there trying to get yourself hit, just go down to first base since that's what you wanted in the first place!

There has been a lot of discussion about whether Greinke hit Quentin on purpose.  After watching the video, I have to say I am not sure, but that pitch sure went straight for his shoulder.  It was not a situation where a pitcher would typically try to hit a batter, even in retaliation for something.  3-2 pitch, close game, later in the game.  On the other hand, the way Quentin stands on top of the plate, and with the weakness of he Padre lineup around him, Greinke may well have decided he was not going to give in and throw a strike there and if he was going to walk him anyway, he'd send a message at the same time.

Greinke did use poor judgement in the way he defended himself.  He was smart to not try to use his right hand for a fist or let Quentin body slam him, thus endangering his right arm, but a running body check with his left shoulder also was probably not a wise move.  I have to say I'm not sure what a good defensive response might have been, but obviously not that one, but that is hindsight.  

Baseball is getting perilously close to a situation like in hockey where you can send a goon out to injure the opposing team's star player and the asymmetry of the relative abilities and punishments makes it profitable for the instigating team.  We've already seen that with Scott Cousins and Buster Posey.  Quentin's 8 game suspension in no way equals what the Dodgers lose in Greinke being out 8 weeks.  I'm not sure I'm in favor of a strick eye for an eye type of justice where the attacking players sits as long as the injured player is out, but MLB definitely needs to look at longer harsher penalties for actions that lead to injuries to opposing players.  

One more thought:  I believe there is a rule in MLB that a hitter has to try to get out of the way of an inside pitch in order to be awarded first base.  The most famous enforcement of this rule occured a long time ago when a Giants hitter, I think maybe Dick Dietz was not awarded first base thus preserving Don Drysdale's streak of scoreless IP.  I would like to see that rule enforced more often for hitters like Quentin.  I'm sorry, but turning your front shoulder inward is not trying to get out of the way.  In fact, it's trying to get hit!  Enforcing that rule would put a stop to hitters standing over home plate and not moving, thus putting pitchers in positions where they might feel they have nothing to lose by hitting the batter.

While I'm at it, I would also like to see the rule changed so that player cannot get first base if their baggy uniform that flies out 6-8 inches away from their body gets hit but they don't.  That is a ridiculous rule and needs to be changed.


  1. Sorry, but I don't buy this. Throughout his career Quentin every time has trotted to first after being hit, so one might reasonably infer that something different happened this time. It's not a matter of "Come on dude! . . . just go down to first base." I've commented on this at more length over on Shankbone's excellent blog, and won't repeat what I said there; but I'll add two other things here: (1) since Quentin didn't try to injure Greinke, as evidenced by Greinke's having no injuries other than the one caused by his own "poor judgment" (your words), invoking any form of eye-for-eye makes no sense to me. (2) I believe all batters in danger of being hit by a ball soaring towards their faces are likely to duck their heads behind their front shoulders; Quentin sure looked to me as if he was trying to avoid getting injured by what you correctly describe as a "potentially lethal weapon."

    1. Quentin turned into the pitch just like he always does. If this was about something he though Greinke said from the mound he was all the more out of place.

    2. I will add that I would be in favor of automatic ejections for pitches thrown at a hitter's head regardless of intent as that is where the possibility of lethality comes into play. It is good that newer helmet technology has made it less of a concern, but you can't protect the face.

    3. I can't respond to comparisons of Quentin's usual behavior when a pitch comes at his head, since I lack internal video of those times. As to your second sentence, Quentin said explicitly that "the last straw" was what Greinke said with his voice and his body after the baseball hit Quentin. Whether Greinke's deliberate addition of insult to (literal) injury makes Quentin all the *more* out of place, I guess, is something about which we disagree.

    4. That pitch was most definitely NOT at Quentin's head!

    5. Heard a story about Dan Gladden hitting a homerun off of a pitcher and flipping his bat in the minors... Next time up, he got plunked in the ribs. Once he took his base, the pitcher one-hop seeded a throw right back into his ribs on his dive back into first. Gladden's response "I shouldn't have flipped that bat." Agree to disagree, but I like pitchers regulating the game from the mound. The real danger of throwing a baseball probably deters more showboating and posing than we might think...

      Greinke should have harnessed his inner Nolan Ryan, who taught Robin Ventura and the rest of baseball that you approach the mound at your own risk. See for yourself:

  2. Dr B--
    Some of the rule changes that you suggest require that the ump make some sort of judgment about whether the batter tried to avoid the pitch, whether the ball hit the guy or the uniform, etc...
    This gets murky, but what do you guys think of instant replay? And in which situations?

    1. Check out Dave Cameron's excellent article on Fangraphs entitled Carlos Quentin's HBP zone.


      I think you might have a lot less sympathy Quentin after reading this article.