Imagining the MLB as Dusty Baker Sees It: With Fighting Allowed

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 Imagining the MLB as Dusty Baker Sees It: With Fighting Allowed
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images


Dusty Baker is no stranger to controversy, and the Cincinnati Reds manager's latest idea would change the way Major League Baseball plays its games.

Despite MLB statistics showing a different story, the Reds have gotten a bad rap for allegedly throwing at batters this season. Cincinnati batters are second in the majors in being hit by a pitch (33), but the pitching staff is in the middle of the pack with only 21 hit batsmen.

So why are the Reds being criticized for "throwing" at players?

The simple answer: The Reds are a good team and have hard-throwers.

Cincinnati had three different teams—the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates—in one week take issue with a Reds pitcher coming close to hitting (or actually hitting) their batters.

After Johnny Cueto came nowhere close to hitting a Cubs batter, Cubs pitcher Matt Garza took exception. Baker responded after the game with some interesting thoughts.

Just put them in a room, let them box and let it be over with. I always said this, let it be like hockey, let them fight, someone hits the ground and it's over with. I'm serious about that...If you've got something to say, you go over and tell them. Johnny ain't running. That guy can say what he wants to say, but he can say it to his face.

It's not going to happen, but letting players "fight it out" could change the way the game is played. Baker is often criticized for the way he manages. Those comments show insight as to how he views the league.

 

Rivalry games are intense

This is obvious, but rivalry games would be even more intense if fighting had a place in baseball. There's the occasional charging the mound, but Baker wants players to go at each other even more.

Notice anything about the list of teams that took exception to the Reds throwing inside to batters? They are rivals of the Reds. Throw the St. Louis Cardinals into the mix, and the Reds have had their share of bad blood with other teams.

Cleveland—mainly Nick Swisher and their announcers—made something out of nothing after Aroldis Chapman had another wild outing. The Pirates don't want a division rival hitting Andrew McCutchen. Nothing has happened with the Cardinals since the teams brawled in 2010, but it has turned into baseball's best rivalry.

Baker has learned some things in nearly four decades worth of professional baseball. The biggest lesson has been that rivalry games flare up quickly.

With the Houston Astros moving over to the American League, every team plays 19 games against each opponent inside the division.

Who do the Reds play this week? The Chicago Cubs. A four-game series means there was almost no way that Garza wasn't going to take the hill. He is scheduled to go on Tuesday, which would have matched him up with Cueto had the ace stayed healthy.

There are many situations against a division rival that can turn a situation from bad to worse. However, teams need to think before they act. Contenders need to worry about possible discipline before they start anything with a rival.

The smallest thing can get a team upset. It's how the players and manager respond that can escalate the situation. Teams are more likely to remember any trouble if it happens within the division.


Hard-throwers are essential

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Having guys like Aroldis Chapman makes teams think twice about throwing at Reds hitters.

Check out the Reds pitching staff.

Rotation Bullpen
Johnny Cueto Aroldis Chapman
Mat Latos Jonathan Broxton
Homer Bailey Sean Marshall
Bronson Arroyo Sam LeCure
Mike Leake J.J. Hoover
Tony Cingrani Alfredo Simon
  Manny Parra
  Curtis Partch
  Logan Ondrusek

 

There's a common theme within the pitching staff.

Outside of Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake, every pitcher in the starting rotation throws 95 mph with ease. The bullpen, highlighted by Chapman, is filled with hard-throwers. Chapman, Jonathan Broxton, J.J. Hoover, Alfredo Simon, Curtis Partch and even Logan Ondrusek can throw 95 mph on a regular basis.

Even Jose Arredondo, who is in the minors, can hit the mid-90s. There's a reason for having so many guys who can light up the radar gun.

Having all those hard-throwers is a good strategy. They can blow hitters away with gas, and they can retaliate if one of their hitters gets plunked. 

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

In the last meeting with the Pirates, Latos received support from his teammates right when he got in the dugout after he plunked a Pittsburgh batter to even the score. He handled it the right way, by throwing a fastball to the lower back of a player. Nothing dirty. He settled the score and moved on.

Using hard-throwers also has teams claiming that any pitch that comes close to hitting a batter was intentional. It shouldn't matter how hard a pitcher throws, but the Reds have been called dirty because of their strong arms.

Other teams don't focus on guys who throw hard. They look for guys that can get hitters out with different pitches. The Reds seem to look for a specific type of pitcher. Cincinnati has been lucky to find numerous hard-throwers who can mix in other pitches occasionally to get outs.

Pitching at Great American Ball Park can be tricky. Having guys who can blow hitters away helps limit the damage.

Baker has had plenty of bad blood with teams in his career. He has learned that hard-throwers are a valuable asset to a team, so he has loaded up on as many as he can.

Although Baker wants the players involved in the issue to settle it themselves, he doesn't mind having hard-throwers at his disposal to retaliate.

 

Talk is cheap

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Johnny Cueto has been involved in some controversies, but Dusty Baker backs his pitcher.

The manager came out and made this point very clear. Players have used the media to call opponents out, but they haven't done anything on the field about it.

Had Cueto not gone on the disabled list last week, the Cueto-Garza rematch would've been a game to keep an eye on. Now Garza is the only one who needs to be careful. 

Being a pitcher in the National League can work against Garza. He will have to bat, unless he gets hit hard early, against a team that he called out. Fortunately for him, he won't have to face the pitcher he called out, especially considering Cueto has a reputation for pitching inside.

Garza had a chance to get even with Cueto had he wanted to. Cueto was up in the bottom of the sixth, but Garza waited until after the game to do something about what happened in the top of the inning

Only two weeks have gone by since Garza made his comment. Nobody made a big deal of Garza hitting Reds third baseman Todd Frazier right after a Jay Bruce homer. Now Garza must wait to see how the Reds handle the situation

Cincinnati doesn't make headlines (anymore) in the media. They take care of everything on the field.

Baker has made it quite clear that his team isn't going to back down. However, the Reds are in contention. They know that they can't be getting into fights and risk losing key players to injuries or suspensions.

The manager gets Reds fans furious with some of his decisions, but he has the right idea in regards to backing up the talk. Anyone who talks to the media needs to be able to back it up on the field. It's easy to talk to a camera in the clubhouse, but it takes guts to confront the player about the issue.

If the player has a chance to settle the score on the field, do it and move on. Calling out opponents in the media is not the way to go about it. Or as Swisher would say, "Don't do that."

Any issue with a player or a team needs to be handled on the field. Or they need to box after the game. Either way works.

Baker understands that talking means nothing, and he is not running away from any confrontation.


*All stats are courtesy of MLB.com

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