What’s up with the Rash of Tommy John Surgeries?

CBSSports.com reported on May 13, 2014 that Jose Fernandez was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right elbow. Later a tear in the UCL in his pitching arm was discovered and Tommy John (TJ) Surgery would be required. Fernandez, 21, is 4-2 with a 2.44 ERA in eight starts this season.

Fernandez made his Marlin debut against the Mets on April 7, 2013. Fernandez was the Major League Rookie of the Year for the NL in 2013 and came in third place for the Cy Young Award. When Fernandez has the TJ Surgery he would join two other All-Star young pitchers, Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg, who already have undergone the TJ Surgery. These three pitchers are arguably among the top 10 starting pitchers.

A notable list of pitchers who have either had or will undergo TJ Surgery since the start of 2014 Spring Training include the Braves starting right-handers, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy; Diamondbacks ace Patrick Corbin; Athletics starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin; Rays All-Star Matt Moore; Yankees starter Ivan Nova; Padres starter Josh Johnson. Others include Mets closer Bobby Parnell; Royals setup man Luke Hochevar; Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon. Dr. James Andrews, the first stop for any player with arm problems, was on Sirius/XM radio’s “Power Alley”. When asked why there seem to be so many guys needing TJ surgery these days. He said, “It’s not an anomaly, it’s a trend. And an alarming one in that so many more of the surgeries he’s performing are for high school pitchers as opposed to professionals with a few years under their belt. Kids are bigger and stronger these days, and their ability to throw harder is outpacing the development of their ulnar collateral ligaments.” He believed the biggest risk factor was year-round baseball, which left little time to recover. Also: young players are playing in more than one league, where pitch count and innings rules aren’t coordinated. Another factor is the radar gun. Young pitchers who throw over 85 or so are at risk, and all of them who are on a major league track are throwing that fast or faster, and are going up in effort when scouts with guns are around. Ultimately, you can’t prevent these injuries for young major leaguers, most of whom were damaged in high school only to have the UCL injuries happen once they’ve hit the pros.

If Dr. Andrews is correct in his belief that the damage to the pitching arm is done before the player reaches the major leagues, young pitchers must be carefully monitored from the time they are in Little League through their high school and college years. Since parents are really the only ones who know where and when a child pitches each day, I believe parents must take a more active role in this monitoring process. It would be useful to have a website developed to educate parents of pitchers on the dangers of overthrowing.

Commissioner Bud Selig recently said. “I’m very worried over the fact that it’s happening with so much regularity, over and over. We have some great young arms, and it’s very sad.”

This brings me to Dr. Frank Jobe who developed and performed the first Tommy John Surgery on Tommy John in 1974. In previous blogs, I argued that Dr. Frank Jobe and Tommy John should be elected into Baseball’s HOF by the Veterans Committee because of their pioneer contributions to baseball. The two blogs about Tommy John and Dr. Frank Jobe called “Two Men Joined at the Elbow” can be found in the archives in September 2013.

The chart below from Bill Petti shows the steep rise in TJ Surgeries over the years. I have not verified his numbers.

Rise of Tommy John Surgeries

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