Yes, “intent” is tough…

Last Wednesday, Mets reliever Hansel Robles threw a pitch that nearly skulled Philadelphia’s Cameron Rupp. Nobody got hurt, so here’s the incident in living color:

Thursday, Major League Baseball suspended Robles for three games. And yesterday, our C.J. Nitkowski quibbled with that suspension. Just a bit from C.J.’s post:

MLB’s official statement said Robles was suspended for "€œintentionally throwing"€ at Rupp. But how do they know what his intention was?

–snip–

The danger in the quick pitch is that while you are changing your timing to affect the hitter you also run the risk of disrupting your own timing. Robles did not get on top of that fastball in time and it sailed up and away on him, nearly hitting Rupp. If you look at catcher Travis d’Arnaud’™s target he was set up down and away, Robles missed badly, all because of the attempted quick pitch.

I snipped a bunch of context, so please read C.J.’s original post before you think he left out something. Here, I do want to address the notions that Robles’ quick pitch made him more likely to throw wildly, and that d’Arnaud’s positioning is a consideration, too.

About the quick pitch, I will defer to C.J. That said, while quick-pitching might make a wild pitch more likely, it hardly proves anything. As for d’Arnaud’s positioning, he wouldn’t necessarily know anything about Robles’ intentions. As John Baker told me last night, "I’ve been unaware my pitcher was throwing at someone until they did. It happened to me in Chicago last year with another quick pitcher. The catcher’s set-up position doesn’t matter that much."

To be sure, Baker agrees with C.J. about Robles’ lack of intent: "For me, that clearly wasn’t intentional. No one throws at someone with a 2-2 count in a 2-run game. I agree with CJ on that. Quick pitching is very effective, but risky if the arm is late and the the body gets out in front in the delivery. The ball usually sails high and arm side in these situations."

None of which, it seems, really matters a great deal to Major League Baseball. Nor should it. C.J. is absolutely right: MLB is guessing Robles’ intent … but not guessing with any real worries about guessing correctly. Because it’s practically impossible to get inside someone’s head. If Robles had pointed at Rupp, then pointed at his own head, then thrown toward Rupp’s head … Well, then we’d know pretty much for sure.

But in the absence of such clear signals, we’re left to guess. And we’re going to guess wrong sometimes. Maybe this time. It doesn’t matter. We can give Robles the benefit of the doubt if we like, and in this case I’m happy to do that. But MLB doesn’t have that luxury. Giving Robles a three-game suspension that won’t carry into the postseason is a relatively pain-free message to other pitchers; a deterrant for other pitchers who might consciously try to disguise their intent.

We’re lucky to have young fellows like C.J. Nitkowski and John Baker to shepherd us through baseball’s intricacies. But sometimes Baseball must deploy blunt tools to serve the greater good.

Is it fair? Nope. But this ain’t got nothing to do with fair.