In 1975 Baseball witnessed one of its most dramatic World Series to date. The Red Sox were facing the Cincinnati Reds “Big Red Machine” and were attempting to break a 57 year drought. In the 12th inning of Game 6, Red Sox catcher Carleton Fisk hit a ball deep to left field and waved it fair. His game winning home run sent the series to a game 7 which was eventually won by the Red Sox. The starter for that game was Luis Tiant who earned a no decision in game 6.
While the 1975 series is known for Fisk’s game winning home run, Luis Tiant is a man forgotten. While his effort in game 6 wasnt great, it was his performance in game 4 of the series that would make pitchers today arm hurt just by hearing it. Tiant gutted out 163 pitch complete game to draw the series even at 2. Jose Contreras was 3 years old.
Contreras was recently placed on the disabled list on April 22nd with a flexor pronator strain. The injury is leaving some to speculate if the 39 year old relief pitcher has been over worked. Contreras pitched 5 games in 7 days and has pitched just 8 innings this season, and has thrown just 138 pitches all season. That is 138 pitches over 20 days for an average of 7 pitches a day. Yet in the modern day of coddling pitchers a grade 1 pronator strain is putting heat on manager Charlie Manager for doing the unthinkable; using his pitchers.
"I feel like, first of all, that there's no way in hell we overused Contreras," Manuel said. "That's how I feel. There's no way.” Said Manuel “What did he pitch? The most games was three. Then he had a day off. He pitched five times in seven days. We weren't trying to stay away from him. He was closing games for us. That's how I look at it”
I have a wild thought for those who are looking at Charlie Manuel as Dusty Baker, and Jose Contreras as Mark Prior. Contreras is over worked, but not this season, in his career. If a pitcher is getting elbow strains 138 pitches into a season than all signs point to his elbow being overworked in his career. Am I really supposed to believe that a 39 year old pitcher came into camp completely healthy but Charlie Manuel over worked him so much in those 20 days that his elbow became less like the great Tiant’s, and more like Bud Smiths? I’m not buying it.
But it does lead to a question. Why is it that just 36 years ago Tiant threw 163 pitches and was fine, but a guy throws 100 pitches every game and after a few years he needs a new elbow courtesy of Dr. James Andrews? When making a case for a pitcher being “over worked” baseball scribes idiotically look at innings pitched, instead of pitch count. You always hear about how many innings a player throws, but you never hear about how many pitches he threw.
I think we can all agree that the average Roy Halladay inning is going to produce far fewer pitches than an average Joe Blanton inning. Looking at players innings pitched total is not going to lead you to pin point an injury problem when it does not accurately show just how much strain a pitcher is putting on his arm. Yet to this day no one seems to look at the real work load.
I’m sure if you were to look at the amount of pitches that Jose Contreras has thrown in his career you could easily pinpoint why he is having some elbow discomfort. It is not a few 20 pitch innings in 2011 that led Contreras to the DL, but a few thousand 20 pitch innings in a long span of time.
I don’t expect the injury philosophy to change. The only time pitch count is brought up is during the game. The only time a player’s pitch count is brought up following an injury is if he threw 120+ pitches. Are we so naïve in this day and age that we simply can’t see what’s staring us in the face? Can we not see the forest through the trees? Before you go crucifying Manuel for deciding to actually use one of his few reliable pitchers take into consideration that While Contreras may be 39, his elbow is probably much older. While it’s easy for local writers to blame the man who makes the call to the pen, it’s simply creating a scape goat for a much bigger problem.