On Thursday night, the Dodgers were visiting the Padres in San Diego. Making the start for Los Angeles was star pitcher Zack Greinke, who is freshl off of signing a 6 year/$159 million contract this off season. On a 3-2 count in the bottom of the 6th inning with the bases empty and a one-run Dodger lead, Greinke plunked Carlos Quentin with an 89 MPH pitch.
After being hit, Quentin turned to the mound and began to stare Greinke down. Based on what I can see (you can make your own interpretations based on whatever video you choose to watch), Zack Greinke appeared to say something to him. What this is I don't know (nor do I really care at all what it was), but it was enough to detonate the ticking time bomb in Quentin's head, and the 6'2 240 pound outfielder charged the mound. Zack Greinke braced himself by leading with his left shoulder and Quentin hit him full-force. What ensued was a benches-clearing brawl that took several minutes to clear up.
However, that's not the end of the incident. Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors wrote this piece which revealed to me that Greinke had broken his collarbone as a result of the brawl and that a timetable had not yet been set for his return. As for Carlos Quentin, he will most surely be suspended for his actions. However that's not where things ended.
Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times reports that after the brawl, Matt Kemp confronted Carlos Quentin and the two exchanged "angry words" with each other; it's entirely possible that this unnecessary confrontation could lead to more fines or suspensions.
But really, what is the overall impact of this brawl? Who exactly is to blame for the incident? I'll cover both questions.
Taking the Blame
In any fight, there is automatically a two-way street for blame. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the blame should be equally shared between the two parties, and it definitely isn't equal in this case. To start, let's consider the game situation. The Dodgers lead 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, 3-2 count, nobody on base. Point by point: In a 2-1 game in the 6th inning, who in the world wants to put runners on base? Is there any sense in hitting a guy in this situation? Going back to the article by Dylan Hernandez, Matt Kemp certainly doesn't think so:
People with good baseball IQs know if you have a one-run lead and it's a 3-2 count, Greinke is not going to hit you on purpose,' Kemp said.
As Kemp said, it's a 3-2 count. Now, I'm not going to actually pretend that I know what Zack Greinke's intentions were, but why in the world would Greinke waste five perfectly good pitches before hitting Carlos Quentin intentionally? Carlos Quentin gets hit by a lot of pitches (115 in his career, according to baseball-reference.com). As Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com points out:
Quentin has been hit more than 100 times by pitches in his history. He should understand that's not because he's A) unlucky, or B) disliked. That's because he stands on the plate and doesn't give ground. It's part of his considerable game.
Quentin gets hit quite often, and he should know better than to assume people are trying to hit him in scenarios like this one. As far as I can tell, the evidence from what actually happened and what the Dodgers themselves said post-game suggests that there was absolutely no intention for Greinke to hit Quentin. It just doesn't add up.
That being said, why is Zack Greinke saying anything to a batter if the pitch wasn't intended to hit him? What good can saying anything in that situation bring? You've got a grown man who's just been hit by a rather solid object being thrown at 89 miles per hour. I haven't been in that situation on that stage before, but I can imagine that Carlos Quentin was not the happiest person in the world.
However, being mad never justifies charging the mound. In my mind, nothing does. You're a grown man with a large audience watching your actions (an audience that undoubtedly includes many children). There is no good that can come out of that action, and it was completely unnecessary for Quentin to charge as he did.
I'll start with the quicker side, here. Carlos Quentin is very likely to be suspended for his actions. Last year, he signed a sparkly new 4 year/$37 million contract with the Padres. As Steve Adams, in the aforementioned MLBTR article, points out, there are 182 calendar days in the MLB season. Take Carlos Quentin's 9.5 million dollar 2013 base salary and divide it by those 182 potential days of pay, and Quentin is going to lose an average of $52,197.80 every day he is suspended (MLB suspensions come without pay). So not only has Quentin's image taken a shot, but his wallet sure will feel a lot lighter because of his decision to charge the mound.
For the Dodgers, there really could not be any worse news. As I wrote last week, the Dodgers flipped Aaron Harang to the Rockies for catcher Ramon Hernandez. This move was done, in my opinion, partly because the Dodgers felt they had a lot of pitching depth. Well, with Zack Greinke now injured for an unknown amount of time and Aaron Harang no longer with the club, the Dodgers find themselves in a situation where they are one key injury from serious trouble.
It is likely that one of Chris Capuano or Ted Lilly will assume Greinke's starting duties while he is on the shelf, and the Dodgers suddenly do not appear as threatening as they once did. This move doesn't just create more risk for the Dodgers, though. It could potentially cost them wins.
Let's assume for a second that Greinke would have pitched similarly to the rate at which he has pitched over the last few years. After all, he's just 29 years old and nothing in recent years suggests he is slowing down. In fact, Greinke's recent numbers have been better than his overall numbers.
Between 2010 and 2012, Greinke had an 8.7 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, and a 1.215 WHIP. All of these numbers are exactly equal to or better than his career averages. He's gotten better as he's gone into his prime, which is expected out of all players. Greinke also has several skills that point to positive future numbers. He's increased his GB% to the mid-high 40's, and his GB/FB ratio has been fantastic. I see no reason why he can't be pitching at the 4.4 fWAR rate that he has pitched at over the last three seasons.
Given this rate, Zack Greinke, assuming his average of 32 starts per year over the last five years, would be producing .1375 WAR per start. The next step is to find out just how long Zack Greinke could be out. Jayson Stark of ESPN did some research on this, and these are the tweets he made regarding said research:
It's a rare injury in pitchers. Only example I could find was Chris Bosio in '90s. Broke collarbone in a collision at 1B. Only out a month.
Before we all jump to conclusions on how long Zack Greinke will be out, recent history of these injuries gives us a range of 1-3 months.
At this point, it's looking like a safe bet on a timetable is going to be 1-3 months (however, we can't be sure until the Dodgers give us one). For now, let's do three different scenarios: a full month, two full months, and three full months. 32 starts per year averages out to just under 1/5th of all of the available games to start, and it is just over 5 starts per month.
Over one month, we'll give Greinke 5 starts. Over two, we'll give him 10. Over three, we'll give him 16. If Zack Greinke misses one month, the Dodgers will lose 0.6875 fWAR in value. If Greinke misses two months, the Dodgers lose 1.375 fWAR. If Greinke were to be slow to recover and miss three full months, the Dodgers would be out 2.2 fWAR.
For the sake of argument, let's say that Chris Capuano slides into the rotation. Over the last two years, Capuano has pitched at a 1.9 fWAR per year clip, and he's averaged 32 starts a year over that span. Let's also assume a best-case scenario where the soon-to-be 35-year old pitches at the same average pace of .059375 fWAR per start. In a one-month scenario, he produces .296875 fWAR. In a two-month scenario, he produces .59375 fWAR. In the worst-case three month scenario, he produces 0.95 fWAR. This means the following scenarios in a best-case situation for the Dodgers:
1) If Greinke misses one month, the Dodgers lose roughly .391 wins in value. They can recover from this and shouldn't lose too much.
2) If Greinke misses two months, the Dodgers lose .78125 wins in value. We're starting to get into the territory of the Dodgers losing some ground in the standings because of this.
3) If Greinke misses three months, the Dodgers lose 1.25 wins in value, which is a significant amount given the nature of baseball races.
This, as I've stated, is a best-case scenario for Los Angeles. Capuano was slotted in the bullpen and is 34 years old, so it wouldn't be shocking if he didn't match his performance over the last two years. Also, let's not forget that it's not like the Dodgers can't suffer other injuries over this span. With every injury that occurs in their rotation after this one, they are digging deeper and deeper into a pool and will have a harder time replacing value. For now, the Dodgers are going to have to hope and pray that the bodies of their current starters can hold up and that they can hold down the fort until Greinke is ready to come back.