News items about Tommy John surgeries are fairly commonplace in baseball circles, but there’s no doubting it’s a significant event for the impacted player. It usually takes over a year to return to form, with a multi-stage rehabilitation process required to regain functionality.
Once a player gets back into game shape, there’s no guarantee the results will be the same. Justin Verlander looked just as good as ever in 2022, but Mike Clevinger didn’t get his velocity all the way back and saw his strikeout rate dip. He could still take another step forward in 2023 now that he’s another year removed from the procedure, but it goes to show that there are no guarantees about what happens in the aftermath.
Here are some players who went under the knife over the past year or so and who will be looking for good progress in 2023, both for their teams and themselves. Huge shoutout to the Tommy John Surgery list for having these details and so much more.
Forrest Whitley, Astros — Surgery Date: March 2021
Whitley, 25, was once considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but his progress has been stalled by various factors. He missed 50 games in 2018 due to a drug suspension, and injuries have hampered him in the years since. He returned from his layoff late last year and tossed 40 innings in the minors but walked 14.5% of batters faced. The Astros already have a great rotation without him, but if Whitley could get back to the form that made him such a hyped prospect, they would be even more loaded.
Kirby Yates, Braves — March 2021
Yates, 36 in March, was one of the best relievers in the league in 2018 and 2019, arguably the best. He posted a 1.67 ERA over 125 games, striking out 38.7% of batters faced, walking just 6.1% of them and getting grounders on 45.2% of balls in play. Since then, however, he’s thrown just 11 1/3 innings. Seven of those came late in the 2022 season, though Yates gave up four runs on six hits and five walks in seven innings. This will be his first full season back. The Braves have a strong bullpen even if Yates can’t get back to peak form, but they’ll likely be in a tight division race and that kind of elite stuff would provide a nice boost.
Leclerc, 29, seemed to be establishing himself as an excellent reliever in 2018. He got into 59 games for the Rangers and posted a 1.56 ERA, getting 12 saves and 15 holds in the process. A .211 BABIP surely helped, but there was a lot to like. He took a step back in 2019 with a 4.33 ERA and then missed most of the following two years. Leclerc returned in June of last year and struggled at first before posting a 2.01 ERA from July onwards. Hernández had a 2.90 ERA in 2020 before missing the 2021 campaign. He returned last year and posted a 2.97 ERA, but with concerning peripherals. His 6.4% walk rate from the former campaign jumped to 13% while his strikeout rate fell from 24.8% to 20.6%. On the more encouraging side, his ground ball rate went from 45.7% to 62.4%. The Rangers totally overhauled their rotation without doing much to the bullpen, but they could potentially get a boost from within if Leclerc and/or Hernández look good this year.
Adrián Morejón, Padres — April 2021
Once considered a top pitching prospect, Morejón, 24 next month, has been slowed by various injuries. He returned in 2022 but worked only in relief, tossing 34 innings in the majors and 13 1/3 in the minors. The Padres have some uncertainty in the back of their rotation that Morejón could help with if he stays healthy, but he’ll likely have workload concerns after so much missed time.
James Paxton, Red Sox — April 2021
Paxton, 34, had a great four-year run with the Mariners and Yankees from 2016 to 2019. However, he’s hardly pitched over the last three years due to various arm issues. He got back on the mound last summer while attempting to come back from Tommy John but then suffered a lat tear that halted his comeback effort. The Red Sox then had the choice to trigger a two-year option on the lefty worth $26MM, which they turned down based on his uncertain health outlook. He then had a $4MM player option that he triggered and will be with the Sox for 2023. He and Chris Sale would have made for a formidable one-two punch at the top of a rotation a few years ago, but neither has been healthy and effective for quite some time. Their status this year figures to have a huge impact on the fortunes of the Sox for the upcoming campaign.
Dustin May, Dodgers — May 2021
May, 25, returned late last year and was able to make six starts for the Dodgers. He posted a 4.50 ERA in that time and struck out 22.8% of batters faced, with both of those numbers paling in comparison to his pre-surgery form. The Dodgers let Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney depart from their 2022 rotation, while bringing in Noah Syndergaard. The quiet offseason will be easier to accept if May can post results like he did over 2019-2021: 2.93 ERA, 24.2% strikeout rate, 5.9% walk rate, 51.6% ground ball rate.
Joey Lucchesi, Mets — June 2021
Lucchesi, 30 in June, made 56 starts for the Padres in 2018 and 2019 with a 4.14 ERA. He didn’t get much of an opportunity in 2020 and was flipped to the Mets as part of the Joe Musgrove trade. He isn’t one of the club’s five best starters right now, but their rotation features four veterans who are 34 or older in Verlander, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco and José Quintana. Also, Kodai Senga is making the transition from Japan, where starters frequently only pitch once a week. The club will surely need to rely on its depth this year at some point, making Lucchesi a key part of the equation.
Spencer Turnbull, Tigers — July 2021
Turnbull, 30, was seeming to make progress towards being a quality starter for the Tigers. He posted a 4.61 ERA in 2019 but got that down to 3.97 in 2020. He pushed it down even more in 2021, registering a 2.88 ERA over nine starts before getting shut down and requiring surgery. The Tigers seem likely to be without Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal to start the year as those pitchers deal with their own injuries. That could leave a path for Turnbull to get back on track.
Tyler Glasnow, Rays — August 2021
Glasnow, 29, didn’t live up to expectations with the Pirates but made good on his prospect pedigree after getting traded to the Rays. From 2019 to 2021, he had a 2.80 ERA while striking out 35.9% of batters faced and walking just 7.8% of them. Tommy John surgery put him out of action for a while but he was able to return late last year, making two starts in the regular season and one in the postseason. Glasnow has looked like an ace at times but still hasn’t maintained it over an extended stretch, still never reaching 115 innings in a major league season. The Rays have been fairly quiet this winter, but a healthy Glasnow is arguably a bigger upgrade to their roster than any move they could have made.
Tejay Antone, Reds — August 2021
Antone, 29, debuted in 2020 and was excellent out of the Reds’ bullpen. Over that year and 2021, he tossed 69 innings with a 2.48 ERA, 32.3% strikeout rate and 48% ground ball rate. The walks were a little high at 10.8% but he was still able to be incredibly effective regardless. He isn’t slated to reach free agency until after 2025, but the rebuilding Reds might have to consider a deadline deal if Antone is healthy and pitching well this summer.
Garrett Crochet, White Sox — April 2022
Crochet, 24 in June, was selected 11th overall in the 2020 draft and made his MLB debut later that year. Between his five appearances in 2020 and 54 more the following year, he has a 2.54 ERA and 29% strikeout rate. He’ll likely miss at least part of the upcoming campaign but the club is planning on keeping him in a relief role, which could help him return quicker.
Luke Jackson, Giants — April 2022
Jackson, 31, had a huge breakout with the Braves in 2021. He tossed 63 2/3 innings with a 1.98 ERA, striking out 26.8% of batters faced while getting grounders at a healthy 52.5% clip. He wasn’t as effective in the playoffs but nonetheless was part of the club’s World Series victory that year. He reached free agency and signed with the Giants, who are taking a shot on a return to form, though Jackson might miss the first couple of months of the 2023 season.
John Means, Orioles — April 2022
Means, 30 in April, was one of the few highlights for the Orioles during their leanest rebuilding years. He has a 3.81 ERA in 356 2/3 career innings, keeping his walks down to an excellent 5% rate. The Orioles took a huge step forward last year, graduating many of their top prospects and actually flirting with postseason contention. They’ll be looking to make more progress this year, but the rotation is still lacking in proven options. Getting Means back into the mix would be a big help if some of the younger guys struggle.
Chris Paddack, Twins — May 2022
Paddack, 27, had a great debut with the Padres in 2019, making 26 starts with a 3.33 ERA. His results fell off in the next two seasons, and he dealt with an elbow strain late in the 2021 season, but the Twins still liked him enough to acquire him as part of their return for Taylor Rogers. He was only able to make five starts before landing on the shelf. Their faith doesn’t seem to have wavered, as they recently signed him to a three-year extension. The Twins have a solid rotation on paper, but nearly the entire group landed on the injured list at some point in 2022. Kenta Maeda missed the whole season while rehabbing from an internal brace procedure, a modification of Tommy John surgery. Since injuries were the big story for the Twins in 2022, better health and/or better depth will be important in 2023.
Chad Green, Free Agent — June 2022
Green, 32 in May, spent the past seven seasons pitching for the Yankees. He tossed 383 2/3 innings in that time with a 3.17 ERA, striking out 32.5% of batters faced against a 6.3% walk rate. Unfortunately, he required Tommy John just a few months away from qualifying for free agency. He has yet to sign with a club, but players in this position often sign two-year deals that cover their rehab and give the team an extra year of control. If Green can find himself a deal like that, he could be a wild card down the stretch.
Casey Mize, Tigers — June 2022
Mize, 26 in May, was selected first overall by the Tigers in 2018. He posted a solid 3.71 ERA in 2021, but with disappointing underlying metrics. He only struck out 19.3% of batters faced and had a much higher 4.92 xERA, 4.71 FIP and 4.45 SIERA. After a dreadful 2022 season, the Tigers need to see how Turnbull, Mize, Skubal and Manning look this year before deciding how to proceed for the future.
Hyun Jin Ryu, Blue Jays — June 2022
Ryu, 36 in March, has oscillated between being injured and dominant for much of his career. He signed a four-year deal with the Blue Jays prior to 2020 and posted a 2.69 ERA that year, coming in third in the AL Cy Young voting. His ERA ticked up to 4.37 in 2021, and Ryu struggled even more last year before going under the knife. The Jays have a solid front four in their rotation but uncertainty at the back. Ryu is targeting a July return, and his health at that time could impact how the Jays approach the trade deadline.
Andrew Kittredge, Rays — June 2022
Kittredge, 33 in March, dominated in 2021 by posting a 1.88 ERA over 71 2/3 innings. He struck out 27.3% of batters he faced while walking just 5.3% of them and also got grounders on 53.5% of balls in play. He took a step back last year but made multiple trips to the injured list and likely wasn’t 100%. He’ll surely miss the first several months of the season but could jump into Tampa’s bullpen down the stretch.
Walker Buehler, Dodgers — August 2022
Buehler, 28, has an excellent track record for the Dodgers, having posted a 3.02 ERA in 638 1/3 innings. He’s struck out 27% of opponents while giving out free passes to just 6.3% of them. The Dodgers will have to get by without him for the majority of 2023, though there’s a chance he could be a late addition to the roster if all goes well. His August surgery makes him roughly one year behind Glasnow, who was able to return late in 2022. However, Glasnow’s procedure was August 4th of 2021 while Buehler’s was on the 23rd of last year. Still, if the Dodgers make a deep postseason run, that could give Buehler the runway he needs to make a landing this year.
These players face longer odds of making an impact since their surgeries were so late in the year. The major exception is Harper, since position players require less recovery time than pitchers. Harper is hoped to be able to return to the Phillies around the All-Star break as a designated hitter, with a chance of returning to the field later in the campaign.