Baseball Pitchers Trying To Get Hurt?


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Baseball, America's past-time has see a vast improvement in the pitchers that come through the Major Leagues.  The speed of their fastball's are topping out well above the 100 mph mark, once a rarity in the game is now becoming common to everyday play.  A theory that has been out there for some time now is the thought that the effect that Tommy John Surgery (also known as Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction) has on the pitcher's arm.  It has been said that pitchers come back with an improved performance than before, with the belief that there is a direct causality between getting the surgery and throwing "harder" and "faster", which I will go on to explain if that is an accurate statement or not. 

In case you don't feel like reading too in depth of the description of Tommy John Surgery, basically what it is a reconstruction of certain ligaments in one's elbow by using stronger tendons from other parts of one's body, usually the forearm, foot, hip, hamstring or knee of the athlete.
tommyjohn.jpgWhat causes this injury is usually just over-use of the arm, which is why pitchers have become a regular on the surgery table for Tommy John.  

UCL Surgery is becoming more common among younger pitchers, as about 25% of patients are solely high school and college baseball pitchers according to this USA Today Article.  However, a problem that is occurring is that players are trying to get this surgery, due to the misconception that the surgery will it will make them throw harder.  

After studies done, with the results again through the link above, it has shown that in fact there is no a direct causality, but there is a third variable that is connecting the two resulting in a better performance from the pitcher.  The intense rehabilitation, which is explained in that link, improves the work ethic of the pitcher, which in itself results in a better pitcher with a newly reconstructed elbow.  

So yes, it is possible to have a pitcher become a better player after the surgery, just look at the recent success of Stephen Strasburg or Josh Johnson.  But the thought of players attempting to get the surgery while being fully healthy is absurd.  However it does raise an interesting argument, with the thought of technology always improving.  Would you get surgery (even if you were healthy) that is legal, and would improve your play in a sport?  Apparently high school kids that are begging to go under the knife for Tommy John Surgery would, how about you?

2 Comments

It is interesting that we are advancing so far in medical science that there is the potential to take a perfectly healthy pitcher and have them undergo surgery only to come back stronger than before. However, I don't believe at this time that it is possible. About 50% of pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery never recover to the point were they can pitch at least 25 games 5 years later. That statistic right there should be enough to discourage younger players from the surgery. Surgery is an action that I believe should only be taken in certain circumstances. Not only is the surgery not perfect, but the player has to rehab for a year, and then there is the huge controversy over whether or not another year of controlled pitching will help recover. It is one of the worst surgeries to have to undergo in sports, because there is some much uncertainty revolving around the recovery. To risk everything when still healthy would be a shocking decision on a players part.

On the bright side, here are some great success stories

I'm glad someone wrote a blog post about this because I was one of the radical voices on social media as I tore apart the baseball media people. The overwhelming majority of them got upset at the Nationals going into "Operation Shutdown" (that quote lives in Pirates infamy, but I wanted to use it here) with Strasburg and just continuously rambled on about his value and why shutting him down is bad for his health and that he needs to throw more to overcome his Tommy John surgery. Well, WRONG!



I don't know if you have read the controversial article written by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated that gained tons of media attention when it was published. But it's pretty much all about how most of the recent pitchers that had Tommy John surgery all have the exact same mechanical flaw in their delivery and how that flaw harms their arms and therefore led to the demise of their UCL. He specifically cites Strasburg and his Nationals teammate Jordan Zimmerman as examples in the article.

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