Keri: The historic rate of Tommy John surgeries

From Jonah Keri at on April 11, 2014, with mention of SABR member Jon Roegele:

Earlier this week, rising star Matt Moore was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left pitching elbow. This is simultaneously shocking and all too familiar.

It’s shocking because Moore pitches for the Tampa Bay Rays, who until recently had enjoyed the best pitching health in baseball. From late 2005 to mid-2009, only one pitcher at any level of the organization, left-hander Jake McGee, went under the knife for Tommy John surgery, the lowest rate of reconstructive UCL surgery for any team. From May 2008 to August 2010, only one Rays starter at the big league level, Scott Kazmir, spent a single day on the disabled list, making Tampa Bay’s pitching staff the healthiest in baseball by a mile. (Both nuggets via The Extra 2%).

It’s familiar because Moore’s injury means he might need Tommy John surgery. Moore and the Rays are still debating whether rehab or surgery is the best option, but if the 24-year-old goes under the knife, he’ll become the latest in a running tally that’s on pace to shatter the record for the most Tommy John surgeries in a season.

According to research conducted by The Hardball Times and Beyond the Box Score writer Jon Roegele, eight pitchers at either the major league or minor level had undergone Tommy John by this date last year. The highest annual total in Roegele’s dataset came in 2012, when 58 pitchers had the operation; that year, 12 pitchers had undergone the surgery by this date.

When top Pirates pitching prospect Jameson Taillon had Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, he became the 20th pitcher to suffer that fate in 2014. And that number is growing. Surgery is likely for Moore, but even if he opts against it, the ranks will swell when Braves reliever Cory Gearrin and Angels prospect Brian Moran have the procedure in the coming days. The 2014 season is on pace to annihilate the previous record for Tommy John surgeries in a calendar year.

What the hell is going on? How did so many (mostly young) pitchers get so badly hurt that they had to agree to a surgery that will prevent them from pitching for a year or more? And what can teams and players do to prevent this from continuing, or from worsening?

Read the full article here:

Related link: Watch the Medical Analysis and Injury Prevention Panel from the 2014 SABR Analytics Conference

Originally published: April 11, 2014. Last Updated: April 11, 2014.