Michael Pineda's 10-game suspension not quite what it seems
On Thursday, Major League Baseball suspended the Yankees' Michael Pineda for 10 games as a result of his ejection for using pine tar on the mound Wednesday night against the Red Sox. That ban is two games longer than the one Rays set-up man Joel Peralta received for the same infraction in 2012, but thanks to the suspension's fortuitous timing, it will only impact New York and Pineda for one game. In effect, he will serve the most lenient suspension possible, even if that wasn't necessarily MLB's intent.
This is a paid suspension, so barring any associated fine -- and none has been announced -- Pineda will suffer no financial repercussions for his transgression. The suspension began with Thursday night's game, and because he started on Wednesday, the first four games of Pineda's suspension will elapse on what would have been rest days for him anyway.
Pineda's next regular turn in the Yankees rotation falls on Monday, April 28, which happens to be an off-day in New York's schedule (a travel day for the visiting Mariners, who play at home in Seattle on Sunday and in the Bronx on Tuesday). As a result, the Yankees won't need to use a replacement start for Pineda until Saturday, May 3, when they will likely start swingman David Phelps, who has a 4.39 ERA in 23 previous major league starts, at home against Tampa Bay. If New York stayed in rotation with an eligible Pineda, he would likely have started on Tuesday, the day after the off-day, then again the following Sunday. That Sunday is now the 10th day of Pineda's suspension, meaning he will be eligible to start on Monday, May 5, just a day later than he would have without the suspension.
As a result, Pineda will only miss one start, and the Yankees will only have to use a spot-starter once. What's more, because it won't have to employ that spot-starter until May 3, New York will have Phelps available out of the bullpen for the bulk of Pineda's suspension, an important added benefit because Phelps is a valuable innings-eater.
Given that Pineda is being suspended for what is a common practice around the game, the leniency of Pineda's suspension, however unintentional, is appropriate. However, it points to a flaw in MLB's methods for suspending starting pitchers. Their suspensions should commence on the day of their next scheduled turn in the rotation, not the day after one of their starts. For Pineda's suspension to be a true, 10-game ban, for example, it should begin on Tuesday, the day of what would have been his next scheduled start. That seems a simple-enough policy for Major League Baseball to enact, but it is one that would have to be collectively bargained with the players' union.
That said, a single start out of a typical season total of 33 for a starting pitcher is roughly three percent of his season and thus equivalent to five games for an everyday player, which is a fairly typical suspension length, and hardly the most lenient. When the punishments were handed down for the recent Brewers-Pirates brawl, the longest suspension was five games, to Milwaukee's Martin Maldonado. The two players who instigated the fight, Carlos Gomez and Travis Snider, received three- and two-game suspensions, respectively, and Pittsburgh pitcher Gerrit Cole, who provoked Gomez verbally but didn't throw any punches, wasn't suspended at all.