By: noah Wright
Matt Mesa/Los Angeles Dodgers
There has been an epidemic sweeping the MLB: Tommy John Surgery. Since the beginning of 2016, there has been 50 Tommy John Surgeries (pitchers and position players combined). For comparison, between 1995-2000, there was a recorded 34 Tommy John surgery procedures, again on position players and pitchers combined. The recent spike in TJ surgeries has led to a big question: “Why has the rate of players undergoing Tommy John surgeries risen so rapidly in the past few years?”.
To start with, what is Tommy John Surgery? The first MLB player to undergo the surgery is Tommy John (hence where the name has came from), a LHP that played between 1963, and 1989 . The surgery attempts to reconstruct a damaged UCL, which is located in The Medial Elbow.
Now let's look at some theories why this surgery has been on the rise:
The first theory why this Tommy John epidemic has started is because of the increase of velocity the past few years. Back in the 90’s, and even into the early 2000’s, it was rare to come by a guy that consistently threw 97 MPH. Today, it seems every team has at least 2 or 3 guys who can touch 95-97 consistently. If you think about pitchers today, what is your typical late-inning pitcher? Usually it’s a guy who hits 95+, and racks up a lot of strikeouts. Even a large amount of starters are able to throw their fastball into the mid-to-high 90’s. In 2008, the average fastball velocity was 90.9 MPH. In 2017, the average velocity was nearly 93 MPH. Pitchers are putting more strain on their arm than before, and are doing so from a young age, until their 20’s and 30’s.
This brings me to my next point: players are starting younger, and younger, and playing more and more. Today, I’m sure you could find a local summer league, fall league, and a winter baseball camp/clinic. Kids are starting to pitch more frequently now than before, and this is the start of wearing out their arm. Like I said earlier, these kids start pitching from a young age, and keep doing so into their 20’s, 30’s, and some into their 40’s. After decades of pitching nearly all year around, their arm muscles wear out, leading to surgeries like Tommy John surgery.
Tommy John surgeries have been sweeping the MLB, to the point to where it has become somewhat of an epidemic. This epidemic has caused many young star players like Corey Seager, Taijuan Walker, Trevor Rosenthal and Drew Smyly to miss long periods of time.