Dubuque: Command, control, and Tommy John surgery

From Patrick Dubuque at Baseball Prospectus on January 27, 2017:

Researching Tommy John surgery and its aftereffects is not an easy task. There are so many variables: the severity of the ligament tear, the health of the arm beforehand and the age of the pitcher it hangs off of, the skill of the doctor performing the procedure, the mutant healing factor of the elbow in question, the organizational philosophy toward rehab, the pitcher’s ability to pitch through pain or inability to disclose it, the small (yet burgeoning) sample size of those who’ve survived it. And luck.

There has always been a mystique surrounding the injury. Perhaps it’s the suddenness of it, a sort of anatomical act of terrorism with no warning, no justice. Or perhaps it’s the surgery itself, the sheer impossibility of it, as though it were thought up by Roald Dahl. (Find a spare tendon and tie it in place where the old one was. Why does the body even have spare tendons?) Or perhaps it’s just the unpredictability of what happens next. Pitchers generally struggle their first season returning, but occasionally a starter will simply take up dominance where he left off.

There was a phase when, having seen so many pitchers re-emerge with newfound velocity, people began whispering about pre-emptive Tommy John surgery, like a baseball equivalent of Botox. It seemed so easy, as if all the cares and stress of a pitcher were stored in this little tendon that could be swapped out like a cartridge on a handgun. And then the problems started as the infirmary list grew. Some pitchers stopped responding to treatment, suffering setbacks, undergoing second surgeries, never being quite the same. Even today Tommy John surgery is capricious, like a hurricane. The Mets gave Matt Harvey an extra three months as a precaution as he came back, and the plan worked; they did the same with Zack Wheeler, and he instead lost a second full season.

Amidst all this chaos stands one truth, one unassailable maxim: “control is the last thing to come back.” Now, thanks to our new tools at BP, we can dig more carefully into this idea. How long does it take for that touch to restore itself, and how badly does it waver? Does it even waver at all?

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=31054

Originally published: January 27, 2017. Last Updated: January 27, 2017.