The DeMatha Stagline

The Student News Site of DeMatha Catholic High School

The DeMatha Stagline

The DeMatha Stagline

Major League Baseball has a Tommy John surgery problem


Tommy John surgery has always been a massive concern throughout the game of baseball, and the fans have noticed the recent uptick in UCL injuries. That begs the question, what is causing this increase and what is it doing to the game? Many of the victims of the Tommy John epidemic are star pitchers, which is hurting many major league rosters that rely on their starting pitchers to win them games. What can be done about it?

In the summer of 2021, complaints about pitchers using substances such as spider tack and other sticky substances became a major issue for Major League Baseball. Commissioner Rob Manfred, during the middle of the season, decided to crack down on the usage of sticky substances by having umpires check the pitchers in between innings. This caused major issues for pitchers having to change up their routine and having to find a new way to get the spin, break, and velocity on their pitches during the middle of the season. Many pitchers expressed frustration that the league made the change midway through the season, where pitchers depend on a routine on and off the field to get them through a long campaign.

Ever since then, many pitchers have had to grip the ball harder, leading to many injuries of starting pitchers who throw fastballs over 95 miles per hour. DeMatha freshman pitcher Owen Connell says “pitchers throw way harder” and that this will continue to happen with the way that pitchers now throw the ball. When the ball is gripped harder and thrown for as many pitches as starting pitchers throw, it can lead to a gradual damaging of the UCL or an immediate snap.

The list of players that we will not see until late 2024 or 2025 is long. Former Cy Young winners Gerrit Cole, Shane Bieber and Sandy Alcantara, as well as all-stars Spencer Strider, Shane McClanahan and Felix Bautista are just a handful of names on the list. These players all play for teams that have made the postseason at least once in the last two seasons, all of which now have to look elsewhere for other options in their rotations.

Many teams are now looking for ways that their pitchers can approach the game without getting hurt, but also without losing their effectiveness. A time like this is a good time to be a pitcher who is a sinkerballer, throws with less velocity and gets quick outs, racking up the innings for their team in a way with less injury risk.

The class of free agents following the 2024 season is deep when it comes to pitching. Braves lefty Max Fried, Orioles pitcher Corbin Burnes, Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler, and Guardians starter Shane Bieber headline the class of pitchers. Burnes is the only one that has not undergone Tommy John, showing that many pitchers can come back in top form after surgery, although Buehler has recently returned and Bieber just recently underwent the surgery so we’ll have to wait and see how their returns pan out.

Regardless of how fans look at it, teams will look at this with concern as these arms hit the open market, and players may receive underwhelming contract offers over the winter. Starters Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery had very long free agent processes over this past winter and that has costed them dearly. The Tommy John epidemic is hurting the game in every way that it can.

The truth is, some pitchers don’t come back the same. When you look at lesser known cases, such as Tanner Rainey of the Washington Nationals, players can lose massive amounts of velocity. Rainey, still only 31, used to have a fastball that hovered around 98 mph, which now is around 93 mph. During the 2022 season, Rainey had a 3.30 ERA and 12 saves for the Nationals when he was shelved during the middle of the summer. Rainey returned for the very end of last season, and so far in 2024 has an ERA of 9.00 and a WHIP of 2.67, which doesn’t seem like a fluke since his fastball, his primary pitch, has been crushed by the opposition.

Many others, like Rainey’s teammate Mason Thompson, have multiple Tommy John surgeries. Connell spoke to that, saying that “guys have a risk of re-injuring” themselves even after the surgery.

The recovery process isn’t easy. When a pitcher goes down with an injury of this magnitude, they are guaranteed to miss the rest of that season and possibly some of the next, depending on the time of the injury. Many players who deal with elbow issues late in their careers don’t make it back, just like those who undergo Tommy John as prospects don’t get a chance. This epidemic is ruining careers, teams, and business, and something needs to be done.

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