Few times in recent years have Cleveland fans so strongly turned on a player as quickly as they have on Carlos Carrasco. It would be impractical to catalogue all the comments, tweets and blog posts (including here at Wahoo’s on First) denouncing Carrasco for beaning Kevin Youkilis after Robinson Cano homered in the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s 14-1 loss to the Yankees, but despite Carrasco’s maintaining it was an accident, suffice to say that his hitting a batter in his first game back after serving a suspension for doing just that hasn’t gone over well.
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I disagree. At the risk of appearing naïve or saying something even less popular than my idea of moving Ubaldo Jimenez to the bullpen, I don’t think Carrasco did anything wrong. I believed Carrasco when he said it was an accident and I hold no ill will against him save for his suspect control.
Let me preface this by saying that if Carrasco did throw at Youkilis on purpose I’d be the first to condemn it. Throwing an intentional beanball isn’t just immature. It would have been selfish to keep the team shorthanded by getting himself suspended. It would have been mean-spirited to willfully injure another player just because he’d been having a bad game. And it would have been phenomenally stupid to think that such petty, misdirected revenge was worth the inevitable consequences.
But I don’t hold that against Carrasco. Only he knows what was truly in his head, but the circumstances surrounding the incident make me think we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s start with the video. Here’s the pitch that led to all this trouble:
Watch Carrasco’s delivery. Does he seem like he has any control over where the ball is going? Carrasco looks off-balance from the beginning and by the time the ball hits the ground he has actually fallen over. Even forgetting that he had been struggling with his command all game (which he had) and the fact that he was rattled after giving up his second home run in less than four innings (which he was), can we really hold him accountable for where that pitch ended up?
Now that that doubt is in our minds, consider what happened after Carrsco was ejected: he apologized! This may not seem like a noteworthy event after he sent a hard object sailing towards another man’s head at 91 mph, but in today’s game it actually is. As I’ve mentioned many times before, what seems like a basic act of human decency is surprisingly rare in Major League Baseball even when there is no suspicion of ill will. Mike Brandyberry points out that almost all pitchers claim it’s an accident after they throw beanballs—”It sounds like a good story if you don’t know Carrasco,” he writes bitterly—but very few actually say they’re sorry. Crazy at it may sound, that Carrasco apologized makes him seem like one of the most conscientious pitchers in the game.
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Also significant is the man standing firmly in Carrasco’s corner: Terry Francona. Obviously Francona has an interest in helping Carrasco avoid a suspension. But Francona is also a man of principle and has a strong sense of right and wrong. Despite the atmosphere of positivity and unity he has worked hard to cultivate in Cleveland, Francona isn’t a pushover or the kind of guy who will defend his players unconditionally—to defend his players even when they’re clearly in the wrong would undermine the clubhouse culture he is trying to create. If Terry Francona trusts Carrasco when he says he simply missed his target, maybe we should too.
Finally, Carrasco isn’t stupid. He would have known what would happen if he hit Youkilis after watching Cano’s home run sail over the Progressive Field wall. He would have known how it would have looked. He would have known what people would think and how people would react. And after having had a suspension hanging over his head for more than a year and a half, he would have known better than just about anyone else in baseball what would probably happen if he got ejected. Unless Carrasco truly has no regard for what his teammates, opponents, and fans think of him—a destructive attitude to be sure—he would have had no incentive to get himself in such hot water.
If Carrasco meant to throw at Youkilis, then he was acting both malevolently and irresponsibly and he deserves all the scorn he’s getting from Indians fans. But between his apology, Francona’s confidence, the obviousness of the consequences, and the fact that his delivery was so off that he literally fell over after throwing the pitch, I don’t think he did. And the poor guy doesn’t deserve to be crucified because he missed with his location at an inopportune time.