Injury plague hits MLB, Tommy John surgeries skyrocket


Thinking Outside The Batter’s Box is a blog about baseball published every week.

The Newtonite

Thinking Outside The Batter's Box is a blog about baseball published every week.
Thinking Outside The Batter’s Box is a blog about baseball published every week.

by Jacob Gurvis
When someone gets sick there is always a chance that the people he spends time with could catch whatever contagious illness he’s carrying. One thing that is very odd, is when a non-contagious, non-illness spreads through a group of hundreds of grown men who do not spend time close together.
In recent years, the number of Major League pitchers who have gotten Tommy John surgery, ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery, has skyrocketed. According to, the number of players (there are a few non-pitchers) who have gotten the surgery has risen from seven in 2007 to 46 in 2012.
The number is already close to 20 this season, including two youngsters in the past few days alone, Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, and Rangers pitcher Martin Perez.
Even worse is the alarming number of very young players who get the surgery. In the last couple years alone, Patrick Corbin, 24, Fernandez, 21, Matt Harvey, 25, Matt Moore, 24, Ivan Nova, 27, Perez, 23, Stephen Strasburg, 25, and Jameson Taillon, 22, among others, have had the surgery. Young guns are missing out on the prime of their careers, and risk ruining their careers.
That said, one major reason for the increase in the number of players getting Tommy John surgery is the increased amount of knowledge and trust in the procedure. It has been proven that the surgery is largely successful, and many players benefit from it and turn their careers around because of it. Compared to the past, in general, players are much more willing to have the surgery.
There are obviously downsides to Tommy John surgery. For one, the procedure takes 12-plus months of recovery time, meaning players usually miss more than a full season. There can be complications, as with any surgery, and players can respond poorly and not rebound. Also, it is an expensive burden for teams. While the surgery itself may not be too expensive, when a player is out for any period of time, he still gets paid, meaning team lose millions of dollars because they pay players who aren’t playing.
In addition to the plethora of young arms getting hurt, there are some teams that have had the bad luck of having multiple pitchers getting injured in the same year. Atlanta Braves starting pitchers Brandon Beachy, 27, and Kris Medlen, 28, are both out for the season due to Tommy John surgery for the second time in their careers. The Oakland Athletics also lost two young starters this season, 25-year-old Jarrod Parker and 26-year-old A.J. Griffin.
When MLB banned home-plate collisions, they did it out of the fear that too many players were getting hurt. Protecting players is one of the league’s most important jobs. And if so many pitchers are getting the same injury, then something has to be done. What must be done, in some capacity, is preserve the young arms that are entering the big leagues more and more each year. I’m no doctor, but it would seem to me that if pitchers are getting hurt because they’re overworked when they’re young, then making them pitch less would be a simple and necessary solution. And maybe that’s not why they’re getting hurt. But regardless, something has to be done to protect these young pitchers who are getting hurt way too much.
The first surgery was done in 1974, on (you guessed it) pitcher Tommy John. Baseball was around way before the 1970s, and the numbers are higher now than they’ve ever been. Pitchers (especially young pitchers) have began to think that having the surgery is an easy, risk-free cop out when they get injured. It shouldn’t be the go-to cure for an elbow-injury, especially when it requires a year of recovery. The thought that Tommy John is a simple, worry-free route to take after an injury should be eradicated before it gets even more out of hand.