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August 8, 2014

Raising Aces

The Road to Recovery

by Doug Thorburn


Much of the focus of the 2014 season has been on pitchers and their busted UCLs, as the ever-growing list of arms that have gone under the knife is scary both for its volume and the level of high-profile names that the list contains. The relative success of Tommy John surgery has somewhat shrouded the reality of the procedure, simultaneously trivializing the difficult decision for a pitcher to cut into his moneymaker while raising the performance expectations when a player returns.

Some pitchers don't come all the back to previous levels of performance, and in extreme cases a comeback can be derailed when the new ligament is compromised during the rehab process, with players such as Cory Luebke and Daniel Hudson requiring a second surgery before getting back on a major-league mound. It is critical to temper expectations for pitchers who are on the road to recovery from UCL replacement, and to appreciate that the comeback trail can be long, with twists and turns along the way.

High-ceiling hurlers such as Matt Harvey and Dylan Bundy are returning to the rubber, but there are a plethora of outcomes that should be considered before we jump back on the bandwagon. Let's examine the cases of three elite pitchers who have walked that rocky road to reclaim their MLB dominance.

Jordan Zimmermann
Surgery date: August 19, 2009

Zimmermann's rookie campaign for the Washington Nationals was cut short when he was stricken by the Tommy John virus. His timetable of recovery was on the shorter side of the 12- to 18-month gap that TJS pitchers typically endure (assuming a clean rehab process), and he was spinning spheres at the highest level just 53 weeks after his run-in with the surgeon's scalpel.

Year IP ERA K % BB % HR % FB Velocity
2009 91 1/3 4.63 23.5% 7.4% 2.6% 94.0
2010 31 4.94 20.0% 7.4% 5.9% 93.0
2011 161 1/3 3.18 18.7% 4.7% 1.8% 94.0
2012 195 2/3 2.94 19.0% 5.3% 2.2% 94.7
2013 213 1/3 3.25 18.6% 4.6% 2.2% 94.8
2014 132 3.00 22.5% 3.9% 1.7% 94.9

Zimmermann was tabbed by Kevin Goldstein as the top prospect in the Washington system prior to the 2009 season, yet his four-star status and no. 56 ranking on that year's Top 101 kept some of the enthusiasm in check. He was tagged a bit in his first go-round of the league, but a strikeout-to-walk ratio better than three teased the right-hander's potential before disaster struck.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (08/08)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Raising Aces: The Rabb... (08/01)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Raising Aces: Have Pit... (08/15)
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Painting the Black: Se... (08/08)

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