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TwinsCentric: The Twins and Tommy John surgery

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: May 13, 2014 - 5:03 AM

When we heard the sad and unfortunate news on Monday afternoon that Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Fernandez has an elbow sprain, it made me feel awful. The assumption (true or not) is that sometime in the near future, he will have Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of this season and likely some of the 2015 season. If you’re a real, true baseball fan (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this web site, you are), you want to see the best performing. Jose Fernandez, despite being just 21 years old, is one of the best.

Fernandez is just the most recent example of what has become an epidemic over the last couple of years. “Everyone” is having Tommy John surgery. No team, including the Twins, is immune to this surgical procedure. Fifteen Major League pitchers have already had Tommy John surgery in the last two months.

IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE

The Atlanta Braves have long been touted as an organization that develops pitching talent, and they are. This year, they have had no fewer than four Tommy John surgeries including a couple of big leaguers and a top prospect. Brandon Beachy and Kyle Medlen both had their second Tommy John surgeries this spring.

Many like to tout the Tampa Bay Rays organization as the one to emulate, and they certainly do a lot of things well. They are said to have some special things that they do medically to study how to keep players healthy. Jeremy Hellickson hasn’t had Tommy John surgery, but he has missed a lot of time the last couple of seasons. Matt Moore, another one of baseball’s best young pitchers, had Tommy John surgery last month.

Baseball America’s JJ Cooper tweeted last night that from 2010 through 2012, 15 high school pitchers were drafted. If Fernandez has Tommy John Surgery, he will be the sixth in that group. Two others on currently on the DL with elbow or forearm issues, and one had hip surgery. Count Dylan Bundy and Jameson Taillon among those who have already had the surgery. The two that are on the DL right now with elbow issues are Top 50 prospects Archie Bradley and Max Fried. Max Fried’s high school teammate, Lucas Giolito, had Tommy John while still in high school and still was a first-round pick.

Two possible Top 10 2014 draft picks, Jeff Hoffmann (East Carolina) and Erick Fedde (UNLV), have or soon will have Tommy John surgery. And both still could get drafted in the first round.

TOMMY JOHN AND THE TWINS

Tommy John was a Minnesota Twins TV broadcaster from 1994 through 1996. Unfortunately, that is not the only connection to the Twins. The Twins have been affected in one way or another by Tommy John surgery over the past decade. I went back ten years of Twins and Twins minor league rosters and here is a list of guys who have had Tommy John surgery before, during or after their Twins career (This is not necessarily complete):
 

  • Brian Duensing – in College at Nebraska
  • Mike Pelfrey – with Mets before coming to Twins as free agent.
  • Kyle Gibson – in minor leagues, in September 2011
  • Lester Oliveros – in September 2012
  • Samuel Deduno – in 2008 with Rockies
  • Corey Williams – on April 1, 2014
  • Alex Wimmers – in minor leagues, in August 2012
  • JT Chargois – in minor leagues, in August 2013
  • Dallas Gallant – in minor leagues, 2011
  • Andrew Ferreria – in college at Harvard
  • Jeff Manship – in college at Notre Dame
  • Francisco Liriano – with Twins in November 2006
  • Pat Neshek – with Twins in November 2008
  • Scott Baker – with Twins in April 2012
  • Carlos Silva – with Cubs in 2012
  • Andrew Albers – with Padres in 2009
  • Joe Mays – with Twins in 2003
  • Kyle Waldrop – with Pirates in 2013
  • Matt Maloney – with Twins in July 2012
  • Carl Pavano – with Yankees in 2007
  • Joe Nathan – with Twins in March 2010
  • Bobby Korecky – in minors with Twins in 2005
  • Matt Bashore – in minors in 2010
  • Tom Stuifbergen – in minors in July 2013
  • Carlos Gutierrez – in minors in college
  • Jhon Garcia – in minors in April 2013
  • Dan Sattler – in minors in August 2012
  • Brian Kirwan – in minors in 2006


This list also does not include a couple of hitters. Remember Matt Macri? He made his Major League debut with the Twins in 2008 after coming to the team from the Rockies organization. They had drafted him in 2001 out of high school, but he went to Notre Dame. A shortstop, he had Tommy John surgery in 2004.

And, of course, the big news this spring in Ft. Myers came when the Twins announced that Miguel Sano would have Tommy John surgery and miss most, if not all, of the 2014 season.

WHY, OH WHY? 

So many fans seem to have a solution to this problem or what they would do to try to keep players from needing Tommy John surgery. That’s funny, of course, since the medical profession has not yet determined any preventative measures to avoid Tommy John surgery.

Aside from not becoming a baseball pitcher, there are several theories out there right now about why there seems to be this influx of Tommy John surgeries. However, I’m not going to pretend to know with any certainty.
 

  • I happen to agree with those who say that some pitchers do too much upper body weight lifting which creates less flexibility and more stress on the ligaments.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if specialization in high school (playing one sport year-round rather than playing two or three sports) has some correlation too. Of course, you will find examples on both sides of this as well.
  • I don’t necessarily think pitch counts alone determines if a pitcher will eventually require Tommy John surgery.
  • We have seen pitchers with “perfect” mechanics have Tommy John surgery, and we have seen pitchers with “poor” mechanics have long careers.


TNSTAAPP – There’s No Such Thing As a Pitching Prospect. Eerily, that acronym is becoming more and more true.

I do have one overriding belief in my head at this time on pitchers and Tommy John surgery. Here’s how you can determine whether or not a pitcher will have Tommy John surgery at some point in his career: Grab a coin and flip it. If it’s heads when it lands, he might have Tommy John surgery. If it’s tails, well, he might not have Tommy John surgery. 

Head on over to Twins Daily for more Twins discussion:

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