BOSTON - Joe Kelly's not the only one unhappy with MLB's choice to uphold his six-game suspension for throwing at the Yankees' Tyler Austin.
"This is a kangaroo court," one person with knowledge of the process said of the decision. "We're in a period where MLB is just beating players at every turn."
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Kelly on Twitter on Thursday made clear he felt he was not treated properly after Austin's suspension was reduced from five games to four. The league and union had no comment because appeal hearings are confidential.
Unlike salary arbitration, on-field discipline hearings leave the league as both judge and jury. An independent party does not determine the appeal. The process is collectively bargained. John McHale Jr., the league executive who typically handles on-field disciplinary hearings, made the ruling in both cases. (Baseball players still earn pay while suspended, and they don't have to serve any punishment until an appeal is heard.)
Per sources, here is some of the thinking behind the decision:
• Kelly’s gesture toward Austin, beckoning him to the mound, was an influence. Austin may well have charged the mound anyway, considering he slammed his bat down in anger first. Nonetheless, because Austin charged after the exchange, there were grounds to say Kelly potentially escalated the brawl.
• There’s always an imperfect science to lining up a suspension for different types of players. How many of the six games Kelly will miss would he have pitched in? Two to four?
• Austin did not play again for five days, in part because his elbow stiffened up after he was hit by the pitch.
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• One thing that does not appear to have any bearing on the situation: how Kelly treated the incident subsequently. Initial postgame comments aside, the pitcher did little to dispel the idea he threw at Austin intentionally. He seemed to embrace some of the attention from the fight, and in a positive, subsequently turned that attention into a charitable endeavor.
• Indeed, intent in the moment seems to be a driving force. Hunter Strickland’s incident with Bryce Harper from 2017 — one that led to many memes — and Scott Feldman throwing at Adam Kennedy in 2006 were considered closer comparables for punishment than scenarios the union argued were similar.
Strickland, a Giants reliever, gave up a pair of home runs to Harper in the 2014 National League Division Series. Last May, in the first meeting between Harper and Strickland since those playoffs, Strickland threw a 98 mph fastball at Harper’s hip, starting a brawl. Harper threw his helmet and had a four-game suspension reduced to three.
Both threw punches, as both Kelly and Austin did.
In the Kelly-Austin case, Austin had a five-game suspension reduced to four. Austin had a questionable slide into second base earlier in the game. Kelly appeared to approach Austin with the same intent Strickland did Harper, yet there wasn’t a gap of three years. Kelly also may have made two attempts to hit Austin.
In Feldman’s case a dozen years ago, he was given six games as a member of the Rangers for hitting the Angels’ Kennedy after two Rangers batters were previously hit.
• The union hoped to see a one-game reduction that came for Kelvin Herrera in 2015, from seven to six. Scott Proctor in 2007 was suspended four games and wound up serving that amount. Matt Capps the same year also was given four games, then appealed. But, overall, the league is treating the potential for injury more seriously than in the past.
(Yet, if the league actually wanted to make a strong statement about safety in these moments, penalties would be much stiffer than six games.)
• If you go back to last season, some with the Red Sox thought it odd that discipline for a brawl between the Yankees-Tigers was not handled more promptly — until after a series between the Sox and Yankees, thereby leaving the Yankees at full strength.
Chief baseball officer Joe Torre’s legacy with the Yankees does make it easy for observers to continue to raise an eyebrow: hey, Austin got a game reduction, but Kelly nothing.
Ultimately, it’s a conspiracy theory that doesn’t seem born out of a logical payoff. Torre just wants the Sox to suffer because he was a successful manager of the Yankees? Does he treat the Yankees differently than the Cardinals or the Dodgers, or any other team he was associated with?
• From the past, we know that what umpires see has a significant influence.
“They look at things like the pitcher's demeanor, the game situation, did it make sense that they would be trying to throw at somebody given the particular game situation, the player’s history,” Manfred said last year. “A variety of things that I think influence that decision. The umpire’s report, you know those umpires are on the ground, they have a pretty good feel for what goes on. Joe has a lot of information that comes from somebody that’s on the ground which I think is extremely valuable."