Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and San Francisco Giants reliever Hunter Strickland finally settled the score Monday. After three years of waiting, Strickland got his revenge on Harper after the outfielder took him deep twice during the 2014 National League Division Series by plunking him with a pitch straight to the hip.
Harper didn’t take too kindly to that. He immediately charged the mound. In the process, Harper’s helmet toss entered the gif pantheon, and the picture of him making contact with Strickland’s face evoked numerous comparisons to the Rougned Odor/Jose Bautista brouhaha from 2016.
That Texas Rangers/Toronto Blue Jays brawl seems like a good comparison for this incident. Both were legitimate fights, featuring flying fists that actually made contact with their intended targets. This wasn’t a “hold me back, bro” affair where both participants act tough while others push and shove.
As a result of that fight, Odor was suspended for eight games. Bautista received one. That punishment was consistent with Major League Baseball’s policy up to that point. The league didn’t make an example of Odor just because his punch connected with Bautista’s jaw. Since 2000, the longest suspension handed to a position player for fighting is 10 games. Michael Barrett was the last player to receive that punishment after hitting A.J. Pierzynski in the face in 2006. Pitcher Ian Kennedy also got 10 games in 2013 for starting a brawl between the Dodgers and Padres.
Will things be different this time around? There was clear intent on both sides. Strickland acted out based on a three-year grudge. Harper charged the mound with his helmet in hand. He may have missed his target by a laughable margin, but that won’t matter to the league.
But before the league makes a ruling, we here at The Stew thought we would give our predictions. We’re taking our best guesses at suspensions for both Harper and Strickland. Keep in mind, these aren’t what we believe should happen. They are what we believe will happen.
Will the longest grudge in MLB history result in the longest suspension? We’re about to find out.
Chris Cwik: 15 games for Harper; 20 games for Strickland
Last year, I argued Rougned Odor should have received a 15-game suspension for punching Jose Bautista in the face. He got an eight-game suspension from the league. I’ll make the same argument for Harper. Handing out 15 games won’t deter further fights, but it could send a message if he gets nearly double the punishment Odor received. What Harper did is no different than any other player who charges the mound, except he threw his helmet. That might be enough to justify a longer punishment, though I doubt that will happen. The league probably won’t make an example of one of its best players, let alone the guy leading the league in All-Star voting.
For Strickland, I’ve given him five additional games since he’s a reliever. He wouldn’t have pitched in every game anyway, so he gets more time on the bench. It helps even out the punishment for both players.
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Mike Oz: 8 games for Harper and Strickland
While I’d love to see this as a message-sending moment from MLB, that three-season-old revenge isn’t something that will fly from a pitcher, I don’t think we’re going to see it. You could argue there’s more to punish here than the Odor-Bautista fight from last year — when you consider Harper’s choice to charge the mount and his helmet toss — but that punch from Odor that connected with Bautista was a bigger moment because it was such a direct hit.
In baseball fights, I think intent matters more than result, but I don’t think that the suspensions will shake out that way in this case. It would be tough to give either Harper or Strickland more than Odor’s eight games, so that’s my guess for both guys. That’s a somewhat steeper penalty for Harper, since he’s an everyday player, but in this brawl, there’s blame on both sides, so they should get punished (somewhat) equally.
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Liz Roscher: 10 games for Harper; 4 games for Strickland
If Rob Manfred wants to make a big statement about how seriously the establishment takes beanball, this is the time to do it. He could come out strong and give both Harper and Strickland the same suspension, and declare that beanball has no place in baseball anymore. But Manfred probably isn’t going to do that.
Strickland is unconvincingly insisting that he didn’t mean to hit Harper, and Harper not only started the fight but also tossed a helmet. Harper will probably get the longer suspension, but Manfred can’t let Strickland go with just a slap on the wrist. It’s clear he instigated this to settle a score. What the commissioner probably won’t take into account is that the score Strickland wanted to settle is three years old, though he really should. Strickland deserves to get an extra day or two tacked on to his suspension because holding a grudge that long against a supremely talented player is the saddest, pettiest thing ever.
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Mark Townsend: 10 games for Harper; 8 games for Strickland
Given the number of purpose pitches and confrontations we’ve already seen this season, it’s possible Major League Baseball will take this opportunity to send a clear message. With that possibility in mind, I’m not expecting the suspensions to be outrageous. After all, the game just lost Mike Trout for roughly two months. MLB can’t afford to lose Harper for too long too. But I do see a justifiable path to giving Harper a 10-game ban and Strickland eight games.
Using Rougned Odor’s eight-game suspension for throwing a punch last season as the baseline, the league could easily tack on two games for Harper charging the mound and attempting to use his batting helmet as a weapon. Even though the helmet toss proved as inaccurate as a Tim Tebow screen pass, Harper had every intention of hitting his target.
Strickland’s intentions were clear too. Given the history that existed between the parties and his apparent willingness to fight everyone in the ballpark, he deserves more than a standard suspension for throwing at a batter. Eight games seem fair, and if any of the teammates aiding him or restraining him get fined he should offer to pay that too.
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