The Common Man was doing chores yesterday evening, while taking in the Twins win over the awesomely-named Blue Jays. He was surprised when the usually efficient Kevin Slowey, despite walking none and striking out only two, had thrown 99 pitches through five innings, and was removed. As Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer pointed out, Slowey has gone six innings or more just once in eight starts this year. This is new for Slowey. In his first 16 starts last year, before getting hurt, Slowey went six or more innings 10 times, while topping 100 pitches only on three occasions. Slowey is decidedly a product of this era, in which pitchers tend to be monitored closely for fatigue and removed before throwing too many bullets. Indeed, in four seasons, Slowey has never been allowed to throw 110 pitches.
All of this was relatively academic, of course, as the Twins won and there was much rejoicing. As the Twins recorded the final out, The Common Man took a deep pull off of his sharp Capital Supper Club beer, and was satisfied. Brewed in Madison, Wisconsin, Supper Club is a relatively new release for a celebrated local brewery that boasts on the bottle that it’s “not bad.” Capital’s website explains that their latest creation is, "Harking back to an era where Supper Clubs were In Vogue and Wisconsin had numerous regional breweries making their version of American Style Lagers. You know, back when these types of beers exhibited regional soul. And many of these beers were enjoyed during an evening spent at a local Supper Club, visiting with friends and family and having a good dinner. Supper Club is an eminently drinkable version of a true American Lager. Featuring a greater depth of refreshing malt character than the mass marketed versions of the style, Supper Club is clean yet satisfying. Classic Wisconsin Lager at it's[sic] finest."
And, indeed, it does harken back to an earlier era. An era of Schlitz, Blatz, Schmidt’s, Stroh’s, Hamm’s and Pabst. An era where regional delicacies were common, and men pledged allegiance to their local brewery almost as much as they did to the flag. It’s an era where Kevin Slowey would not be comfortable, because it’s an era where pitchers were expected to finish what they started.
Roy Halladay, however, would feel right at home. Halladay, of course, has led the league in complete games five times in his career, including once in a season where he started only 19 games (2005), and each of the last three years. He already has three complete games this year for the Phillies in eight starts, and is leading the league in innings pitched. He’s also got a 6-1 record and a 1.59 ERA, so he’s obviously taken a shine to the National League.
He has thrown 52 complete games in his career, which is just four more than rubber-armed Livan Hernandez, but 20 more than the #3 men on the list, Tim Wakefield and Jamie Moyer, who are 10 and 14 years Halladay’s senior, respectively. In fact, only 27 pitchers in baseball today have more than 10 complete games, none of whom is younger than 28 (Dontrelle Willis, who has 15). Only CC Sabathia, who has 30 CG through age 29, has a remote chance of catching up to Halladay, but would have to average more than five CG per year to match Doc’s pace. Halladay is an amazing specimen reminiscent of the bad old days when Juan Marichal completed 30 of 38 (1968).
Often, today, you hear these old days of supper clubs and complete games referred to with great fondness and nostalgia, leading you to believe that it was a better time. A simpler time. But The Common Man doesn’t necessarily think that’s true. Yes, it’s fun to see Halladay and Sabathia work deep into games, anachronisms on display every five days. But there’s a reason these players seem so out of time and place: most pitchers simply cannot handle that kind of strain.
In 1976, despite his team finishing 25 games out of first place, the Tigers let Mark Fidrych throw 25 complete games in 29 starts. Sandy Koufax threw 54 complete games and 658.2 innings in his last two seasons. Billy Martin made Mike Norris complete 36 games in 56 starts from 1980-81. This, essentially, shredded their arms and ended their careers. Koufax was done at 30, stricken with crippling arthritis in his left arm. Marichal became league-average after 1969, and was washed-up at age 35. Fergie Jenkens was a totally different pitcher after 1971, when he completed 30 games. Catfish Hunter signed with the Yankees, completed 30 games, and promptly nosedived. He was no longer an effective pitcher at the age of 30. Whitey Ford was used sparingly in the ‘50s, but had his workload ramped up once Casey Stengel was fired (he jumped by more than 90 innings from 1960 to 1961) and was basically done at 36.
Is that really what you want? Pitchers flaming out left and right? Do you really want a world of Fernando Valenzuelas and Orel Hershisers, whose effectiveness is stripped from them before they turn 25 or 30, respectively. Today’s pitchers may be babied, but the rate of catastrophic arm injuries seems to have fallen. Part of that, of course, is due to better medicine, but part of that is due to more manageable workloads, and a better sense of how valuable those right and left arms can be. Yes, an occasional Nolan Ryan or Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver or Steve Carlton can bust through and be a workhorse for 15 years or more. But along the way, you’re going to ruin the arms of a lot of Ramon Martinezes, Dave Boswells, Dean Chances, and Kerry Woods. And The Common Man doesn’t think that’s worth the price. A variety of great pitchers is far more interesting than 3-4 top guns.
Likewise, do you really want a world full of 10,000 generic American Style Lagers, when some of the most fun and exciting beers today are coming out of micro-breweries, larger local breweries like Capital? Do you really want another Budweiser clone, when you can have an IPA, Chocolate Porter, Oatmeal Stout, or Maibock? The variety available today due to increased specialization and competition among the micros and greater shipping capacity totally blows away the drudgery of the supper club era. The American Style Lager is generally a great beer. Supper Club is light, but crisp, with a mellow and clean aftertaste that invites you back for more. It’s terrific. But you don’t want to be trapped in a world of Supper Clubs. It’s a nice treat when it comes around in the rotation. Just like Roy Halladay.