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May 30, 2014

Baseball Therapy

The Hard Part About Preventing Tommy John Surgeries

by Russell A. Carleton


On Wednesday, we had a news story involving Drs. James Andrews and Glenn Fleisig and Tommy John surgery. Normally when that’s the case, it means that someone’s season is over (and sadly, that’s been happening a lot lately). But this time, it was the good doctors responding to what they termed an “epidemic” of ulnar collateral ligament transplants (the actual name for Tommy John surgery) and offering some helpful tips to prevent the elbow injuries that require the procedure.

I have absolutely no expertise in orthopedics, but I’ll trust that these guys know what they’re talking about. Their recommendations ranged from the obvious (exercise, rest, and nutrition are vital to a pitcher’s health) to the more earth-shaking (think twice about winter league baseball—can you do a winter league without pitchers?). To my untrained eye, the recommendations all make sense if the goal is to prevent UCL tears. Now, if all teams and pitchers would simply follow their recommendations…

Oh, if only making people healthier were that easy! We’d have a country filled people who had healthy weights, were non-smoking, were moderate drinkers, and about 50 other things.

So here comes the tough part. How on earth will we get pitchers to follow these rules? When reading through the steps that Drs. Andrews and Fleisig recommend, my first thought was about how many of these rules are broken on a regular basis. Not only that, but how many of them would be a hard sell to the actual players involved. Some of them would be easy enough—optimizing pitching mechanics is something that all pitchers want to do anyway. But I about spat out my drink when I read this:

“2. Do not always pitch with 100% effort.”

Well now, aren’t we contradicting just about every cultural message that a given pitcher has ever heard. Yes, he might have heard this advice from his pitching coach in the past, but we still live in a “Rah rah, give 110 percent all the time” culture. Consider the following: There’s a small fascination that people have with the idea that closers do not seem to pitch well in non-save situations. For example, sometimes a closer hasn’t pitched in five days and just needs an inning of work. Despite the fact that his team is actually down 7-1, he comes into the ninth. And he gives up two extra runs, not that it matters. I’m going to out on a limb and suggest that sometimes, that’s a pitcher not going 100 percent. He doesn’t need to, so why should he? Yet, when he’s asked about it after the game, it would be borderline heresy for him to say, “Yeah, I was just out there to get my work in. I wasn’t throwing everything 100 percent. Just trying not to get hurt.”

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article What Scouts Are Saying... (05/30)
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