That’s Amaury News and Commentary: Pitchers Are Bigger, Stronger and on the DL More Than Ever

Photo credit: @NBCSAthletics

By: Amaury Pi-González

If the A’s advance to the postseason, they will not be able to depend with their No. 1  starter, Sean Manaea. He will have arthroscopic surgery to repair a left shoulder impingement on September 19. A’s manager Bob Melvin said that Manaea will be sidelined through 2019.

Just a few years ago when I asked Melvin in Spring Training about Manaea, he told me wonders about the then-rookie pitcher. Jharel Cotton missed this 2018 season with Tommy John surgery as well as the A’s top pitching prospect A.J Puk. Pitchers are having all kinds of surgeries–primarily Tommy John–to the point where it’s very common. No team is immune to injuries. Young pitchers mostly throw 95 mph and they are bigger and stronger than ever. Conditioning is the best it has ever been. Nutrition is much more advanced than ever. Plus we now know more about the human body, so people are living longer than ever. Yet, few teams can escape these injuries to their pitching staffs.

One of my favorite pitchers was the Phillies’ Robin Roberts, who would throw 300 or more innings each season, just like Nolan Ryan or Jaime Moyer. Moreover, Vida Blue pitched for 17 years, and in eight of those years, he hurled between 224 to 312 innings per season. Not to mention, Moyer pitched for 25 seasons, and in 10 of those seasons, he easily went over 200 innings.

Juan Marichal completed 244 career games, going the distance. Most recently, Pedro Martínez pitched for 2,827 inning in 18 seasons. Jim Palmer pitched a total of 3,948 innings over 19 years with the Orioles, and never gave up a grand slam. Bartolo Colón has pitched for 3,459 2/3 innings and counting in his 21-plus seasons, and he has easily pitched over 200 innings per season. None of these guys were near 6’4″ and 235 lbs.

Many established pitchers as well as rookies in the MLB would travel to Cuba, Puerto Rico, México, Venezuela and vice versa to pitch in the Winter Leagues. They reported to Spring Training the following year and continued their long careers–most of them free of surgeries. There was always tendinitis, tired arms and ailments like that, but the names of the surgeons were not as famously known back then. Pitchers used to run a lot and did not lift weights. Teams did not have a state of the art gym at each park like they have today with all types of supplements and vitamins along with qualified physiotherapists. Tommy John surgery has a high success rate, but around 20 percent of pitchers never make it back.

It is a never ending debate. Should they limit pitchers to 100 pitches per game? Are they training the wrong way? And there are many other questions without definite answers.

This is one of my favorite quotes. It is from Liván Hernández, who pitched for 17 years and in many seasons threw over 200 innings, “A mi no me preocupa la cantidad de lanzamiento que yo hago, lo que quiero es ganar el juego para mi equipo, si ellos quieren contar mis lanzamientos, está bien, en Cuba solo Dios sabe cuantos lanzamientos yo hacía por salida.”

Translation: “I am not worried how many pitches I throw, what I want is to win the game for my team, if they want to count the pitches I make, that is fine, in Cuba only God knew how many pitches I made every time I started a game.”

Notes: Tommy John pitched for 26 years from 1963 to 1989, winning 288 games while losing 231. He pitched for the Indians, White Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, California Angels, A’s and Yankees. Despite not being in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., his name is mentioned much more often than all the combined pitchers that are in the HOF.

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