Injury expert Glenn Flesig discussed the latest Tommy John surgery epidemic at the annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, writes Matthew Leach of MLB.com. Flesig, who holds a doctorate in biomedical engineering, is the partner of Dr. James Andrews at the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI). The institute aims to “improve the understanding, prevention and treatment of sports-related injuries through research and education.”
Flesig presented data on both professional and youth pitchers. At the professional level, 16% of pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. Flesig found that once pitchers have recovered from the procedure, “they have the typical flexibility and typical mechanics. So they’re back to normal.” Of course, lost time and the potential for complications means that it’s best to avoid the issue in the first place.
Of course, UCL replacement can often impact free agency and the trade market. The increased incidence of the injury last season had some teams reaching for outside help. The Braves were able to call upon Ervin Santana on a one-year deal when Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy both required a second procedure. Atlanta forfeited a draft pick when they signed Santana. We saw both Medlen and Beachy sign short-term, incentive-laden contracts this winter.
Since the recovery rate is so high, teams are willing to project a return to normality for prospects. Last June, the Blue Jays drafted Jeff Hoffman ninth overall. The Nationals took Erik Fedde with the 18th pick. Both pitchers had Tommy John surgery shortly before the draft.
A study of youth pitchers could reveal the way to decrease the incidence of elbow injury. Flesig offered a few convincing correlations. Youth pitchers who threw over 80 pitches in a game were four times more likely to require surgery. Those who pitched for more than eight months a year were five times more likely.
Pitching when fatigued was the biggest risk indicator. Youth who self-identified as having “often pitched” when fatigued were 36 times more likely to go under the knife. For the parents in the audience, don’t let your kid pitch too often or when fatigued.