In grading the suspensions for the Dodgers-D'backs brawl, our own Grant Brisbee gave an F to Ian Kennedy's 10-game suspension. Why an F? Because Kennedy could easily have crippled up somebody pretty good. The mere possibility of which seems to merit more than 10 games. And as FanGraphs' Dave Cameron points out, the ease of gaming the system means Kennedy is probably going to miss just one start ... with the Diamondbacks' other four starting pitchers taking up all the slack, and working on their usual rest. In other words, this hurts the D'backs hardly at all. Which hardly seems the point of the suspension.
The easiest fix would probably be to take away the right to drop the appeal after it is filed for. If you get suspended and decide you want to fight it, great, you’re fighting it. You do not get to say "just kidding" when it becomes convenient for your team to give you a few days off. Make the decision to appeal binding, and force players to decide whether they actually want to argue their case and serve a suspension at a time of MLB’s choosing.
The other option is to just drastically increase the length of suspensions for starting pitchers in order to account for the number of normal days off those suspensions cover anyway; at 15 or 20 games, all of the sudden there’s no real way to just play with the schedule so that the penalty has little or no effect. If a pitcher is faced with actually missing several starts, and teams will have to call someone up from the minors to make the suspended pitcher’s starts, then you’ll see fewer fastballs aimed at opposing hitter’s heads. Until then, these suspensions will continue to be nothing more than P.R.
Yes. A thousand yesses.
I have just one tiny quibble with Dave's analysis, though: I don't think that p.r. is really the goal. Or if it is, it's horribly ineffective p.r.
Was the public clamoring for a suspension? Not really. The great majority of baseball fans really don't care about this stuff. Well, unless one of their favorite players lands in the hospital or something. Which didn't happen in this case. If Major League Baseball had levied a four-game suspension instead -- with Kennedy missing not a single start -- there would not have been a single extra ticket unsold, or a single extra inning unwatched on someone's Regional Sports Network.
Yes, that's a simplistic way of looking at it. Baseball lost very few fans because of drugs, whether cocaine in the 1980s or steroids in the aughts. Very few that we can find, anyway. Which doesn't mean Baseball didn't have a p.r. problem during those periods. Maybe it's more accurate to say there was a publicity problem, if only because plenty of negative things were being written and said about the sport. Then again, P.T. Barnum supposedly said (but probably didn't say) "There's no such thing as bad publicity."
Are brawls bad for baseball? Maybe not, publicity-wise. I would guess that each big-time donnybrook like the one the other night creates more fan interest than it costs. My guess is that Baseball really wouldn't mind an all-out brawl every so often, as long as nobody actually gets hurt.
And there's the rub.
The other night, someone could have gotten hurt. Badly. While an actual death is unlikely -- after all, it's been nearly a century since that's happened in the major leagues -- there have been any number of career-ending or -altering injuries over the years, due to beanballs and brawls. I don't have the space here, but trust me.
Leaving aside the publicity, I believe that baseball people, from Commissioner Bud to the guy who sweeps out the dugout after the game, have a real affection for the young men who play the game, and don't want to see them getting hurt. For a lot of reasons, baseball hasn't necessarily gotten much safer over the years, but it's not for lack of trying.
I've now gotten pretty far off the beam. I do believe that Major League Baseball would take a harder line on these situations if possible, but for the moment it's just not possible. Limiting the players' flexibility in the appeals process is a great idea, but that's subject to negotiation with the union. Suspending obvious beanball pitchers for significantly more than 10 games -- and without pay, of course -- is a great idea, but that's also subject to negotiation with the union.
Alas, I'm afraid the union won't be interested in negotiating these points until someone is truly and terribly injured. So for now, this is just where we're at. And so somehow I find myself, once again, in the strange position of defending Major League Baseball. I must be getting soft.