The Truth About
There's this idea going around
that Tommy John surgery will enable a pitcher to throw harder than
they could before the surgery and that young pitchers should get
Tommy John surgery even if they do not need it.
That is simply not the case.
All that Tommy John surgery can do —
and only 80 to 90 percent of the time — is return a pitcher to
their pre-injury level of performance. Any real or perceived
gains over a pitcher's pre-injury levels of performance are likely
due to a number of factors...
- Improved mechanics.
- Gradual UCL degradation.
The UCL can degrade over the
course of several years before breaking completely. As a result,
after the procedure a pitcher will often find that they can throw
harder than they could just before the procedure was necessary.
However, they will not be able to throw harder than they could
before their UCL started to degrade.
Dr. Frank Jobe, the creator of the
procedure, says as much in this
article that he did with Baseball Prospectus and this is
available on ESPN.com. The relevant lines are bolded and in red.
Prospectus: Speaking of getting back to where you were before
and getting back to elbows, we've heard from quite a few
pitchers, swearing they throw harder after Tommy John surgery
than they did before. Is this possible?
When a pitcher comes in with elbow problems, you often see that
their ligaments were already wearing out well before. Maybe four
or five years ago they could throw a 95 mile an hour fastball,
but they've had that ability diminished as the ligament's been
stretched. What the surgery does is
restore the ligament's stability to where it was four or five
years ago. A pitcher might say the operation did it,
but it's just more stability in the arm contributing to better
Prospectus: Would a pitcher ever consider getting elective Tommy
John surgery, just hoping to get that fastball?
It wouldn't help if you didn't have it
before. All the surgery does is get you back to your normal
elbow. You either have the stuff or you don't. A
player that reaches the majors, he's spent years in the minors
improving, making his mechanics better, with his muscles getting
Before I close, let
me point out one other interesting piece of information regarding
young pitchers and curveballs.
Over the course of the past few years, I
have started to regard problems related to curveballs in young
pitchers as an overuse problem rather a problem with the
curveball itself. I started to think about this after reviewing
the research and finding that throwing a standard curveball
doesn't appear to subject the arm to tremendous forces. What I
think is going on in terms of young pitchers who throw the
curveball is that their arms may be being damaged by all the
practice that is required to learn to throw a good curveball.
To throw just one curveball in a game, you have to throw hundreds
or thousands in practice.
I believe that all of those curveballs
thrown in practice may be what is actually destroying the arms of
It appears that Dr. Frank Jobe agrees
with me. Again,
the relevant lines are bolded and in red.
What about high school pitchers or younger? Would you limit
their pitch counts? Or have them not throw curves possibly?
I don't think throwing the curve puts that much more stress on
the arm. I think learning how to throw
it does. That's why Little League kids get in
trouble. They want to throw a curve so
they spend every afternoon throwing to their dads, trying as
hard as they can to get it. Then if they're good, the
coach wants to win. If it's the playoffs, the same kid might
pitch three days in a row.