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A Controversial Solution To The Tommy John Epidemic In Baseball
Posted By Matt Stein On April 14, 2014 @ 12:20 PM In main feature,MLB | No Comments
Some of the top pitchers in the game are having lost seasons in 2014 due to having Tommy John surgery, an increasing epidemic in the baseball world.
Teams such as the Braves (Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy & Cory Gearrin), Diamondbacks (Patrick Corbin & David Hernandez), Mets (Matt Harvey & Bobby Parnell), Athletics (Jarrod Parker), Padres (Cory Lubebke), Royals (Luke Hochevar) and possibly the Rays (Matt Moore) are all having issues with their pitching rotations trying to replace some of their top performers from last season.
Let’s rewind for a second: for those of you who are unfamiliar with the procedure, let’s explain what Tommy John surgery is.
Tommy John Surgery, known in medical practice as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) reconstruction, is a surgical graft procedure in which the ulnar collateral ligament in the medial elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body.
The procedure was first performed in 1974 by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, then a Los Angeles Dodgers team physician who served as a special advisor to the team until his death in 2014. It is named after former major league pitcher Tommy John, the first baseball player to undergo the surgery.
Fast foward back to the issue at hand: How can MLB teams prevent lost seasons by their top pitchers (and position players in some cases) when they need them the most?
We’ve already seen the playoff hopes of the Braves, Diamondbacks, and A’s take a hit due to these injuries but here’s the solution I believe would help future issues like these from arising: teams should have top draft pick arms (or all draft pick arms) have Tommy John surgery right off the bat.
How would this help? Dr. James Andrews went on MLB Network Radio earlier last week explaining why he thinks this is becoming an epidemic in the game of baseball: pitchers are throwing too hard and too often when they are younger, especially in high school, for their UCL to hold up.
Andrews stated that pitchers in their senior year of high school shouldn’t be throwing more than 80-85mph, as that’s the max velocity a pitcher’s UCL can withstand at the stage of development it is in at this age.
However, we are seeing more and more pitchers coming out of high school throwing 90+mph.
Young pitchers are also throwing way more often than they should be, as they are playing multiple seasons throughout the years for sometimes more than one team at a time. Throw in the draft showcases these guys are throwing in as well and their arms are never getting a break.
If MLB teams know this is an issue (that these young pitchers are being abused when they are younger), then why don’t they just have their top draft arms undergo the surgery before beginning their trek through the minor leagues?
Think about it: this would avoid the possibility of pitcher’s having to miss entire seasons when their teams are counting on them for a playoff run and we might actually see better performances out of these guys when they do eventually make it to the big leagues. Better performances? Yes, I said better performances because multiple pitchers have gone on record for saying they felt stronger than ever before after the surgery.
Look, teams know these this issue isn’t going away and that their young arms are all candidates to have UCL injuries and Tommy John surgery at some point in their careers. Denying this fact is only going to hurt these teams in the future. Have these pitchers undergo the procedure before they enter the minors and we might not see as many team’s playoff hopes being crushed due to these injuries.
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