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Postseason Baseball Stress to Pitchers
Cubs' Aroldis Chapman and Indians' Andrew Miller
Managers Affect Pitchers' Health
When the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series championship in 1908 versus the Detroit Tigers, righty Orval Overall had two complete games and Hall of Famer Mordecai 'Three Finger' Brown added one, Tiger pitchers matched those three complete games as the Windy City squad prevailed in five games, a Series rematch with essentially the same result from 1907.
In the 2016 World Series, Kyle Hendricks--who just might win the NL Cy Young Award, started two games for the Cubs and could not reach the fifth inning. Jake Arietta, an 18 game winner, could not make it to the sixth inning.
Corey Kluber was the 'iron man' of the Series, starting three games for the Indians, though never making it past the sixth, and fading badly in Game 7. Kluber was the Series leader at a whopping 16 innings pitched.
Managers Joe Maddon of Chicago and Cleveland's Terry Francona changed pitchers faster than pathetic gambling casino junkies sitting at slot machines itching to pull the one-armed bandit again and again, hoping for a win. Both skippers used 11 pitchers, and relied heavily on their relief corp stars to assure victory.
Aroldis Chapman came over to the Cubs mid-season from the Yankees for a bevy of prospects, while another dynamic southpaw, Andrew Miller, was also dispatched by the Yankess to the Indians for a collection of youngsters. Not coincidentally, these power arms were huge factors in their teams reaching the finals. Chapman goes into the off-season as a free-agent, while Miller has one year left on his contract.
Thus, Joe Maddon used Chapman like a rented mule. Five appearances in the seven games, most destructively in game six, seventh inning, while leading 7-2! Worse, he kept Chapman hurling until finally taking him out after a leadoff walk in the ninth. The Cubs won, 9-3, and Maddon next day copped to making a mistake in his usage of Chapman in this game. Sure enough, Chapman was called upon the next night to close out a historic Cubs victory, but he was worn, not sharp, and allowed the game to be tied on a dramatic home run pulled down the left field line by Rajai Davis.
Chapman can take his ring and kiss the Cubs goodbye as someone overpays for his closer services in the off-season. The question is, how much damage did his Manager do to him with the five appearances and tonnage of pitches?
The thing about some Managers is that they never pitched and cannot directly relate to the physical taxing that high-stress pitches do to an arm. Players are wired to play through pain, 'be a warrior', and are usually perfectly willing to do anything and everything to help a team win. It's the job of the Manager to know when too much is destructive to a player, either in the short, and perhaps the long term.
Dodger Manager Walt Alston took reliever Mike Marshall at his word and kept throwing him out there in 1974 106 times for 208 1/3 innings, a World Series appearance, and Cy Young Award. He wasn't good again until two nice seasons for the Twins in '78-'79.
Francona was so drunk on Andrew Miller's effectiveness against the Red Sox and Blue Jays in the playoffs, that he kept going to that tasty bottle of Miller until the southpaw finally faded in the seventh game, even allowing a prodigious homer to center by retiring catcher Cody Ross, not to be mistaken for the bat of Johnny Bench.
Watch the way pitchers finish their deliveries. Notice how often, especially on fastballs, that Miller's mechanics break down and he lands stiffly on his right leg, then recoils.
When you are a kid, a coach might yell out that you are just using your arm, not your body, when you pitch like that. When you do it over and over and over in high stress MLB October (and now November), games, it takes a dramatic toll that cannot be seen like a bruise, or a cut. Throwing 'all arm' causes micro-tears to your ulnar collateral ligament, can damage your knee as you violently recoil in a tough-angled twist, and--depending on your exact mechanics--strain your shoulder and even lats.
Dodger lefty Rich Hill--also a free agent this off-season as he hits age 37--has the same destructive recoiling on heaters. It's little wonder that with 110 innings this season between the Oakland Athletics and the Dodgers, Hill has pitched over 100 innings in a season just twice now. NOT a good bet on staying healthy and reliably available.
Ah, but Managers chasing down World Series championships consider such collateral damage, especially if the prevailing opinion is that your hurler--like Aroldis Chapman--is undoubtedly taking his skills to the open market for the best long term deal he can find.
Today's Managers are virtually neurotic about getting a fresh arm in the game--even if the 'fresh arm' threw 46 pitches the night before--and have devalued the starting pitcher to--at best in this World Series--six innings.
Today's staffs are often up to 13 pitchers on the active 25-man roster, and they cart out one strapping fireballer after another...because they can.
Frequent use combined with lousy mechanics results in many pitchers being scrapped on the side of the road in short order. No matter, there is an endless stream of similar arms shooting beebees in the mid-90 mph to triple-digit neighborhood.
Nope, this is no longer your father's sport, and certainly not your grandfather's game.
Do you realize in the epic 1960 World Series game seven when Bill Mazeroski ended the affair in the bottom of the ninth off Ralph Terry with a homer just past the grasp of leftfielder Yogi Berra to win, 10-9 that there were nine pitchers used, 24 hits amassed, five walks issued, the game was over in a nifty two hours and 36 minutes, and NOT ONE BATTER was struck out!
Now we suffer with over-managing, no self-esteem boosters for the starters, super-long games, and more pitching injuries than ever.
My quick fix to the sport would be to cap active rosters at ten pitchers, and require each reliever to face a minimum of two batters.
Both moves would deter trigger-happy managers from bringing in pitcher after pitcher without barely a thought. Give them fewer moves to make, and force them to be strategic about how and when the reliever enters.
The game will go at a better pace--crucial for the young fans the sport needs to entertain--the offensive action should pick up, and the arm-chair second-guessing of moves will be endless.
Indian righthanded relief ace Cody Allen struck out 12 in six innings over his four World Series appearances, while an overworked Miller seemed to labor toward the end, racking up seven innings, allowing seven hits, three walks, striking out nine, and amassing an ugly WHIP of 1.304.
Managers are primarily accountable for wins, titles, and World Series trophies. The truth is, however, they are the caretakers of their players' health. That takes a solid back seat to winning, no matter the damage to the pitchers.
Orval Overall, Mordecai Brown, and their sterling infield including Tinkers to Evers to Chance would not recognize the 2016 brand of baseball, though I'm sure they'd be relieved that their Cubs finally won again after their 1908 triumph over the Tigers of Ty Cobb and Sam 'Wahoo' Crawford.