Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How long before a healthy pitcher opts for Tommy John surgery as an attempt to get even better?

Today the news broke that Miami Marlins ace and defending National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez is headed for Tommy John surgery.  This ESPN story lists 14 other pitchers who have also decided to have the procedure since the start of spring training.  Everybody wants to know why these elbow injuries are suddenly happening at such an alarming rate.

Lackey has been much better post-Tommy John surgery.
I'd like to put forth the premise that maybe the number of injuries isn't actually increasing, but instead the technology in both diagnosing and fixing them is rapidly advancing, making the surgery a much more common option than it once was.

When Red Sox pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey elected to have it done in 2011, I joked that it was becoming so trivial I might decide to get Tommy John surgery to fix my bartending.

In Lackey's case, the surgery not only repaired his arm, it may have helped improve his pitching as well.  From 2010 through 2011 Lackey posted a combined ERA of 5.26, and a WHIP of 1.50.  He sat out 2012 while recovering, and since returning in 2013 his ERA is only 3.53, while his WHIP is just 1.17.

How long before a struggling pitcher decides to have the surgery just because he thinks it could make him better?  Is it possible that's already happened?  At some point in the future allegedly "healthy" athletes undergoing procedures that can enhance their abilities is going to become a major issue; and it's probably not that far off...

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