The worst thing you want to see from a pitcher is them holding their elbow after a pitch. Whenever you see it, you gasp. If this happens to a player on your favorite team, and they have to get an MRI, you pray you don’t hear three words: Tommy John Surgery. If a player has to get Tommy John Surgery, they have to sit out for the remainder of the season. Losing one of your best players to Tommy John Surgery is heartbreaking for a fan. Usually, after serious surgeries, players never come back the same. Many believe that Tommy John Surgery is different. A lot of people believe that pitchers actually play better after the surgery. I want to know if this is true. Could pitchers actually perform better after Tommy John Surgery, and why?
In 2011, my favorite pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, on my favorite team, the Washington Nationals, tore a ligament in his elbow which needed Tommy John. I was heartbroken after this news, but everybody kept saying “He will come back better than ever”. A study done in 2014 showed statistics from 1986-2012 about pitchers in the MLB who have undergone Tommy John Surgery. The results from this study show an increase in pitching performance after the surgery. Pitchers actually walked less batters, allowed less hits, won more games, and had a lower ERA (earned runs against). According to Eurekalert.com, 83% of pitchers returned to pitching after Tommy John Surgery.
Another study shows statistics done in a similar time period. This one observed pitchers between the years of 1982-2010. After observing 168 major league pitchers, the results found were quite different than the one from the first study. In this study, according to Eurekalert.com, pitchers experienced a rise in ERA from 4.15-4.74, an increase in WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) from 1.40-1.48, and a decrease in innings pitched from 59 to 50.
Another study tested whether pitchers lost velocity after Tommy John Surgery. Between 2008-2010, 28 pitchers returned to the MLB after having Tommy John Surgery. When pitching velocity was recorded before and after surgery, researchers found no statistical difference. Also, the researchers showed that pitchers showed no difference in walks, strikeouts, ERA, and other statistics that correlate with performance. This study concludes that velocity and performance after Tommy John Surgery is no different than before the surgery.
A fourth study tested the same idea as the last study, but this study had a lot larger population. This study tested 105 pitchers who pitched at least a year prior to and after Tommy John Surgery. Of these 105 pitchers, the average ERA dropped from 4.22-4.66. Batting average of hitters faced went up from .249-.258. Average fastball speed also decreased from 91.2-90.8. This study concludes that performance decreases after Tommy John Surgery.
There is no saying whether Tommy John Surgery increases or decreases pitching performance. There are statistics which both go for it and against it. I don’t think it helps pitches, but I think that pitchers can get back to normal after it. I believe that the reason statistics get better after surgery is simply because the player improves, not because of the surgery.