On Monday, May 29, 2017, the Washington Nationals visited the San Francisco Giants. In the top of the eighth inning, Giants’ reliever Hunter Strickland threw a 98-mph fastball into Bryce Harper‘s hip. Presumably, the intentional plunk occurred because Harper hit two home runs off of Strickland in the 2014 NLDS.
Harper, understandably upset, started down the first base line, exchanging words with Strickland and gestured with his bat. He opted to charge the mound, dropping his bat, hurling his helmet, and landing a couple of decent punches. Strickland return fire and both benches cleared. Interestingly enough, Strickland’s catcher, Buster Posey opted not to intercede and let Harper charge the mound unimpeded.
Fallout from the league came Tuesday, with suspensions handed to both players. Strickland received a six-game ban, presumably for both the plunk and the fight. Harper received a four-game for charging the mound.
BREAKING: Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper suspended four games, Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland six games for roles in brawl.
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 30, 2017
These suspensions hurt the Nationals much more than the struggling Giants. At most, Strickland will miss six innings of work for his role in the plunking. And while he will lose pay for those six games, the Giants can merely promote another reliever from the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats to pick up those innings. Strickland has posted a 1.53 ERA in 17.2 innings of work, facing a total of 76 batters. His WAR is a minuscule 0.3.
Harper, however, leads the Nationals in home runs, RBI, runs, and OBP. His slash this season is .331/.443/.663/1.106. His 15 home runs and 44 runs scored both lead the National League. The Nationals will lose his bat for 36 innings. Harper owns a WAR of 2.6. It will be up to Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth to pick up the slack for the next four games for the Nationals.
The imbalance in the suspensions is unfair to the clubs. Some punishment had to be meted out because charging the mound is against the rules. However, it is not fair, nor is it good for baseball, that a 17-inning player receive what amounts to less than one full game of work for the club. Strickland’s ban should have been equal to the number of innings that Harper will be forced to miss for the Nationals. This suspension gives relief pitchers no real incentive to not intentionally plunk the opposing team’s star player. Hopefully Commissioner Manfred will address this in the near future.