Sunday, January 3, 2016


If you are a young and hard-throwing pitcher in today’s major league baseball, you have been forewarned.  Based on some very ugly recent trends, there is a very good chance you too will soon fall under the Tommy John knife at some point.  With more pitchers (and even some position players) falling victim to the surgery over the last few years, some around the game think we are getting close to epidemic proportions.  While no one has any one answer as far as how to remedy the issue, many have voiced their thoughts on how best to proceed.  One of the smartest and more accurate statements that was spoken on the topic recently came from new Washington Nationals ace SP Max Scherzer who shared some views that make a ton of sense given what we have seen over the last few years.  Scherzer, in angling for why he deserved a long-term contract as a free agent last offseason, argued that once a pitcher goes past the age of 27, he is pretty much in the clear for Tommy John.  His argument was that pitchers under 27 are more susceptible to the procedure due to the fact that their arms and ligaments are still developing and thus they have to be managed more carefully in terms of workload.  Based on the evidence, Scherzer seems dead on.  You can count on one hand the amount of veteran starters who have had the surgery and there are clear trends that have emerged in terms of what type of pitchers more often than not wind up needing the procedure.  The red warning flashes should be going off above the heads of starting pitchers who are under the age of 27 and who throw fastballs on average of 95 or greater.  Under that premise, we have compiled a list of pitchers who fit this criteria heading into the 2016 season.  While we are not suggesting you avoid these names altogether, we are advising you at least understand the risks associated with drafting such an hurler. 

Yordano Ventura:  I have spoken more than a few times about the very high risk Ventura brings due to his slight frame and full-out torque when he throws.  Ventura had a Tommy John scare in 2014 when his elbow began to bark but at that point no structural issues were found.   However that is the same schedule 2015 Tommy John victim Zack Wheeler of the New York Mets had when he too showed a clean MRI on his elbow the year prior.  Tread carefully here. 

Chris Sale:  It is old news in saying that Chris Sale is injury prone and that was before he fractured his foot at the start of spring training last season.  Sale has had shoulder or elbow trouble at least once from 2012 through 2014.  While Sale’s arm stayed sound throughout the 2015 season, his very awkward delivery has been blamed for his history of arm trouble.  Remember too that Sale followed the Adam Wainwright bullpen to starter path and we all know how that turned out for the St. Louis veteran. 

Madison Bumgarner:  Bumgarner is very scary for a few reasons.  The first is the insane amount of innings he tossed in 2014 during the San Francisco Giants’ World Series championship run.  The second is that Bumgarner is number 1 in all of baseball in pitches thrown by a starter who was 25 years old or younger over the last three seasons combined.   

Sonny Gray:  Gray is a lower risk as he is not a pure heat guy but he has thrown a lot of tough innings at a young age which is always risky. 

Alex Wood:  Nothing yet to suggest Wood will succumb to anything but I hate the starter-to-bullpen-to-starter path he traveled in 2014 and last season saw his numbers plummet when expectations were sizable.  The last time someone did such a flip flop was Joba Chamberlain and he ended up needing the surgery. 

Gerrit Cole:  Cole already has dealt with shoulder trouble and pitching to compensate for that injury puts more stress on the elbow.  Also Cole is near the top in all of major league baseball in terms of his average fastball velocity which adds to the red flags. 

Andrew Cashner:  Cashner has already had a few Tommy John scares and dealt with a slew of elbow/shoulder trouble since becoming a starter for the San Diego Padres.  He too throws very hard and seems like a classic case waiting to happen. 

Tyson Ross:  Ross is incredible scary as he throws his elbow-killing slider over 40 percent of the time, no doubt an extreme red flag.  There is only so much an elbow can take in terms of that stressful pitch. 

Noah Syndegaard:  The tall and lanky right-hander was in the top five in baseball when it came to average fastball velocity during his 2015 debut and Syndegaard also had a major scare late in 2014 while in the minors when his elbow began screaming.  Slight frame and high velocity fastball often leads to trouble. 

Jacob DeGrom:  Just like with rotation mate Noah Syndegaard, Jacob DeGrom lingered in the top 5-7 starting pitchers in all of baseball in terms of average fastball velocity last season.  DeGrom already has a Tommy John surgery under his belt which shows you how prone he could be to another procedure and the innings are really starting to pile up for him since becoming a Mets mainstay in 2014. 

Carlos Martinez:  The latest pitching gem to come out of the St. Louis Cardinals system, Carlos Martinez was as good as any other starter in the game in 2015, his first ever full season as a member of the team’s rotation.  Martinez is the personification of a power pitcher, unleashing a heater which stays in the 98-100 range consistently.  He also has bounced around from the bullpen to the rotation which has been an avenue to Tommy John surgery for other young hurlers. 

Jake Odorizzi:  Last but not least we have a hard thrower in Odorizzi who is also quite young.  Nothing has shown up yet but he is still in the infant stages of his development. 

There you have it.  While I wouldn’t avoid all of these young and talented pitchers, I would particularly look to pass on Sale, Bumgarner, Cole, Ventura, and Ross who all look like the biggest injury risks.  The ability is clearly there but so is the inherent risk in each.

1 comment:

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