>Beaconing Hope

>Oh man, something has been tearing through The Common Family this week. Fevers have spiked. Coughs have lingered. Fluids have projected. It has not been fun. And so, The Common Man spent a great deal of time nursing The Boy back to health, resting on the couch watching bad movies, and cuddling with The Uncommon Wife (yes, men cuddle) while watching DVDs in bed. While great for family bonding, it has been detrimental to actual productivity, so The Common Man will do his best to make up for lost time. Fortunately, he has lots to talk about.

For instance, in the face of The Common Man’s recent shivering spell on the sofa, he’s grown more and more impressed with the performance of the Milwaukee Brewers’ ace, CC Sabathia. Sabathia, famously acquired by the Brewers in a midseason deal, has been unstoppable thusfar in a Milwaukee uniform. In just 11 starts, he has gone 9-0 with a 1.43 ERA. He’s completed more than half his starts and has three shutouts in the process, and has struck out almost a batter an inning while allowing just one runner per inning. In his previous start, he threw a one-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out 11.

Yet, Sabathia’s not just notable for his excellence. Indeed, his toughness and durability have caused controversy in recent weeks. Since joining the Brewers, Sabathia has been worked hard by manager Ned Yost, averaging 111.6 pitches per start including a 130 pitch complete game when his team was up by six runs. While this is an indefensible strategy for his manager (especially if Sabathia appears worn down in the postseason), it’s a remarkable accomplishment for Sabathia. For the year, he is leading the majors in pitches/start, when the league median is close to 93. That means that, on average, Sabathia is giving his team a full inning more of (an incredibly high level of) production than the typical major league starter.

And this is a risky strategy, both for the Brewers and for Sabathia. Current research indicates, according to a 2004 article by Baseball Prospectus’s Rany Jazayerli, “1. While pitching is an inherently unnatural motion, throwing a pitch does not necessarily do permanent damage to a pitcher’s arm. It’s only when fatigue sets in (and a pitcher’s mechanics start to waver) that continued pitching can result in irreversible injury. 2. There is a certain number of pitches that a pitcher can throw before that fatigue sets in. 3. Once a pitcher is fatigued, each additional pitch causes more damage, and results in more additional fatigue, than the pitch before.” And so, as Sabathia racks up start after start of high pitch counts, his likelihood of suffering a season ending, or even a catastrophic, arm injury exponentially increases.

There is rampant speculation that the Brewers, realizing that they are unlikely to sign Sabathia after the season (he’ll be a free agent) have decided to ignore this risk for this year and run him into the ground. Yost has contradicted this assertion, saying, “I respect him as a player. I respect him as a person. He’s got a family. I know how this business works. He has to provide for his family. I would never do anything that would take away from that ability. I just couldn’t live with myself.” Regardless of whether they are knowingly putting Sabathia’s health in jeopardy, the Brewers’ strategy seems unwise both for the rest of this season and for their pitcher’s future.

For his part, however, Sabathia has acted like a shining beacon of manhood; he has taken the abuse his manager has dished out with no complaint, indeed with eagerness to take the ball and dominate his opposition. With the looming prospect of making $100 million, The Common Man could understand if Sabathia wanted to baby his golden left arm, ensuring his family’s prosperity for generations to come. But his continued enthusiasm for taking the ball in the face of risk and his continued excellence singles him out as The Common Man’s Weekly Beacon of Manhood (a new feature here). You can bet that CC Sabathia wouldn’t lay on the couch and watch The Condemned if he had a game to pitch. Shame on The Common Man.