Commentary

Dodgers-Padres brawl repercussions

Zack Greinke got hurt in melee, and now Los Angeles must cope with the pain

Updated: April 12, 2013, 9:57 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Editor's note: It was announced on Friday night that Carlos Quentin will be suspended eight games for his role in Thursday's brawl.

Just when baseball's peacekeeping forces were beginning to think they might have put an end to the dopey tradition of mound-charging, along came Carlos Quentin.

He never got that memo.

I'd be willing to bet that, before Thursday, no player in the history of baseball had ever charged the mound after getting hit by a 3-2 pitch in a one-run game.

But Quentin never got that memo, either.

So just because the Padres' resident plunk-master inexplicably stampeded out to Zack Greinke's turf Thursday night, setting off the most unforgettable baseball brawl in years, the Dodgers' $217 million season hangs in the balance.

And the repercussions will be reverberating for months. Maybe longer.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Quentin
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsWith the Dodgers leading 2-1 in the sixth inning Thursday night, Zack Greinke plunked leadoff batter Carlos Quentin with a 3-2 pitch. A brawl erupted, and Greinke suffered a broken collarbone.

Why? Here's why:

• Early indications are that Greinke could be out for two months, possibly longer. That's a dozen starts. Maybe more. We're talking about a guy who, in his Cy Young season of 2009, was worth 10.4 Wins Above Replacement and was pitching great this year until Quentin showed up at his doorstep, with a 1.59 ERA and sub-1.00 WHIP through two starts. There's no replacing that level of dominance. Impossible. The single biggest reason to believe in this team was that Greinke-Clayton Kershaw tag team at the top of the rotation. If this injury costs them two to four wins, that's a killer. Remember, the National League West has been decided by three games or fewer in six of the past nine seasons.

• On the other hand, that Cy Young edition of Greinke hasn't shown up every year. He was worth a combined 3.6 WAR to the Brewers and Angels last season, was valued at 1.5 wins the season before that and 3.4 in the season after he won the Cy Young. So if that's the guy the Dodgers have to replace, they're as equipped to do that as any team out there. For months, people have been asking what they were doing holding on to guys like Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly when there was no place for them in the rotation. Now, they're about to turn to one or both of them to take Greinke's starts. For what it's worth, Capuano was worth 2.1 WAR last season. So if this is a short-term absence by their co-ace, not trading away those "excess" starters could turn out to be the best trade the Dodgers never made.

• The other big topic rattling around baseball Friday was the one that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly raised after the game Thursday: Should Quentin be allowed to play a game before Greinke returns? "I agree with Mattingly 100 percent," one American League executive said. "Quentin needs to miss as much time as Greinke." Well, that's not going to happen. Over the past eight seasons, eight hitters have been suspended after games in which they headed for the mound. The longest sentence handed to any of them was eight games -- to Nyjer Morgan in 2010. Coco Crisp got seven games in 2008, and Richie Sexson was suspended for six in 2008. And the only other players who got more than four games were Kevin Youkilis in 2009 and Miguel Olivo in 2008, who missed five games apiece. Incidentally, there wasn't a single incident last season of any hitter charging the mound.

• But here's the difference between this incident and any of the previous eight: This one led to a serious injury, of a critical player, under circumstances that should never have been allowed. There were rumblings Friday that baseball was pondering a difficult question: How much did Greinke's injury, and prolonged absence to come, have to be factored into Quentin's suspension? "You have to take that into account, don't you?" one longtime executive wondered. "There has to be a consequence with something like this or you run the risk of having more incidents. And you can't allow that precedent."

• Also factoring into the discipline deliberations: The Dodgers and Padres are back at it Monday in Los Angeles. This won't be one of those times when suspensions are handed down a week after the brawl. All suspensions need to be in place before the next time the teams meet. So the discipline debate was moved to the top of the priority list in the commissioner's office Friday. Good plan.

• Another fascinating question: Was there any chance -- any -- that Greinke was throwing at Quentin on purpose -- on a full-count pitch, in a one-run game, to a hitter leading off the sixth inning? Just check the body language of catcher A.J. Ellis. If this had been premeditated, wouldn't his first move after the pitch have been to jump in front of Quentin to make sure he didn't charge the mound? Instead, Ellis just rose out of his crouch casually, looking curious but certainly not alarmed, about Quentin's impending reaction. "And not just him," one NL exec said. "Look at [plate umpire] Sam Holbrook. Typically, you'll see at least some intuitive feel from the umpire and catcher to jump out and get in the way [if they think the hitter might run toward the mound]. But there was none -- because neither guy's intuition told him that there needed to be."

• But if you're interested in applying for Quentin's defense team, here's a stat to ponder, even though it looks more ominous out of context from this particular situation: Since 2008, Greinke has hit Quentin with a pitch three times in 31 plate appearances. That comes to one HBP every 10.3 trips to the plate. Greinke has faced 4,279 hitters not named Carlos Quentin in that span -- and hit just 19 of them. That comes to one every 225.2 trips to the plate. Your witness.

• Here's the response of one executive after I ran that stat past him Friday morning: "It's not like he's only been hit three times [since '08], all by Zack Greinke. All the guy does is get hit. He missed half the season last year, and he still got hit 17 times." This would be true. Of all players since 1900 who have been drilled at least 100 times in their careers, guess who has the highest rate of HBPs per plate appearance? That would be Quentin -- one every 24.1 PAs.

• Of course, Greinke didn't exactly defuse this situation. When Quentin took a step toward the mound, Greinke could have waved, shrugged, apologized or at least flashed the peace sign. Instead, he clearly uttered some sort of inflammatory remark. (Use your imagination.) But was that a good enough reason for Quentin to stomp toward the mound? C'mon. "Let's just say he dropped the F-bomb," the same exec just quoted above said. "You think that's -- what? -- the second or third time [Quentin] ever heard it? That's no reason to do what he did. That makes no sense."

Well, it must have made sense to Quentin, given the history of his long, bruise-filled relationship with Greinke. In the heat of a moment, no player is thinking through every possible nuance of why a baseball might or might not have been heading his way.

Nevertheless, mound-charging is always a dumb idea. And thanks to this one, the bottom line is this:

The Dodgers' beautiful -- not to mention expensive -- 2013 season can't ever be the same.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.