Author Archives: Mark Paterra

The Tommy John epidemic

There are a few things that I really enjoy doing. One of those things is watching baseball and researching baseball. As any baseball fan can tell you, one huge issue that as been facing Major League Baseball players recently is the increase in Tommy John surgery for professional pitchers. For those who do not know what a “Tommy John” surgery consists of, it is a surgery used to replace a pitcher’s UCL or ulnar collateral ligament. The surgery was created originally in 1974 for pitcher “Tommy John” hence the name. The tearing of a pitcher’s UCL has become more and more prevalent in the MLB as of late. The question I would like to answer: What are the factors responsible for this recent uptick in Tommy John surgeries?

The first thing you have to look at when examining this question is: What usually causes ligaments in the arm to tear? As per Dr. Ken Fleisig, he cites torque on the elbow as the reason for tearing ligaments in the arm, especially the UCL. Now obviously professional pitchers put an incredible amount of torque on the elbow as they are throwing the ball anywhere from 90-100 mph. This torque is so great that hypothetically, any given pitcher’s UCL should tear on every pitch. Fleisig states that a typical pitch puts 100 newton meters of force on the elbow. About half of this force is placed on the UCL. That puts around 50-55 newton metres of force on the elbow. In tests on cadavers, it has shown that a typical UCL can not withstand more than 32 metres of force. Obviously the ligaments of cadavers are not at the same strength as professional baseball players, this however does not make up for the huge discrepancy as to what your UCL should be able to withstand and what professional pitchers are making it withstand. So for pitchers we are able to see a strong correlation between torque placed on the elbow and the likelihood of tearing one’s UCL. Our next question would be to ask: What causes an increase in torque on the elbow? Increased torque on the elbow can be seen by an increase in arm speed and the use of a curveball. The use of a curveball becomes especially dangerous in younger arms as many young baseball players ligaments and joints are not fully developed and can not withstand this incredible amount of torque placed on their UCL. (Flesig)

Now that we see the causes for UCL injuries, the next question that would need to be answered is: Why are we seeing more UCL injuries now? One possible explanation could be that simply pitchers are throwing harder now than they used to. Research done by FanGraphs‘ Julien Assouline, would suggest that an increase in velocity does seem to increase the likelihood of Tommy John surgery. After looking at average velocity thrown by a pitcher and comparing it to if they had Tommy John surgery or not, Assouline was able to conclude that a pitcher who throws 90 mph is 7-10% less likely to have Tommy John than a pitcher who throws 96 mph. It appears that velocity is a factor, what else could be a looming factor in this recent Tommy John epidemic? Many would suggest that the overuse of little league pitchers. While pitching any young baseball player too much will have an obvious impact on his arm, this does not necessarily equate to a higher risk of Tommy John. The main study people like to point to as proof that youth baseball overuse leads to Tommy John is this longitudinal study by the University of North Carolina. This study actually seemed to conclude that prior shoulder injury is actually the best predictor of future Tommy John surgery, closely followed by pitching a slider. Pitching in travel baseball is actually the 13th best indicator of future Tommy John surgery based on this study. This is not to say that over-use of youth pitchers has no effect on future injury, it just does not appear to be the biggest factor. In short, extreme over use of pitchers at a young age will lead to an increased injury risk but this is not the explanation for the increase in Tommy John surgeries we have seen recently in the MLB. One last possible explanation is that there are not actually any more UCL injuries than before. It is possible that modern medicine has made it easier for us to detect these injuries and that pitchers before were not able to properly identify their injury as a UCL tear requiring Tommy John. This explanation is the hardest to prove or to disprove because there is no way to go back and see how many injuries went unnoticed.

After going through this research, it is apparent that there is no one sole factor of the increase in Tommy John surgery. Our best guess is that it is a combination of the overuse of arms from a young age combined with the increase in velocity that has been recorded as of late. The Tommy John epidemic appears to be one without a clear solution. Pitch counts and reducing pitch velocity seems like a possible route to take but one that may or may not be effective. Overall, elbow injuries are a natural cause of throwing something as hard as professional pitchers do and a problem that will continue to exist for as long as pitchers are throwing 90-100 mph.


Velocity and the Likelihood of Tommy John Surgery

Baseball Ballparks are more important than you think

When you discuss ballparks with casual fans of baseball, the discussion is usually centered on the aesthetics of the park or some new crazy food the ballpark has adopted, like a burger with pizzas for the buns (no, this is a real thing). One thing many fans do not realize is that the ballpark a team plays in has an impact on their performance. Many people may not understand this because every ballpark seems to be the same thing : 4 bases, a pitcher’s mound and an outfield fence. How is it that a ballpark could change anything that is happening between the players in a game?

Ballparks affect the game in a multitude of ways. The easiest effect for fans to see is the distance of the outfield fences. Every park has differing distances from home plate to the right field, center field and, left field fence. This has an obvious impact on performance as the closer a fence is the easier it is to hit the ball over this fence. One of the biggest examples of this is at Yankees Stadium in New York. The right field fence is only 314 feet out, making it the shortest porch in baseball. This allows for left handed power hitters to thrive in Yankees Stadium because players tend to pull the ball (lefties hit it to right field and righties hit it to left field).


Another slight ballpark factor in performance is the dimensions of the outfield. Bigger outfield dimensions means more distance for outfielders to cover and gives more space for hitters to hit the ball. Coors Field has the most outfield acreage which makes it one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball. This however is not the only factor that makes Coors Field one of the most hitter friendly parks in baseball. The last ballpark factor is the one most fans do not know about but also a very crucial one.  Altitude. The altitude of a stadium may not seem very important to most baseball fans and it would be hard to see how altitude could effect performance. Altitude effects multiple parts of the game. It first effects the pitch that is being thrown. Pitch speed will slightly increase due to the lowered air pressure but the bigger impact is seen on breaking pitches. One of the forces acting on a pitch is frictional force. Due to the lower air pressure there are less air molecules present. This means a baseball has less air molecules to rub against and less friction acting on it. The basis of a breaking pitch is to have friction act on the ball in a way that makes it fall or curve in a direction. The highest stadium altitude is seen in Colorado at Coors Field. According to Alan Nathan of Illinois University, a breaking pitch at Coors Field will only break 85% as much as a breaking pitch at a regular ballpark. This is one reason Coors Field is widely considered the best hitters park in baseball. The other reason is the effect altitude has on batted balls. Friction on a baseball also acts to slow the baseball down. This lack of friction at Coors Field means batted balls simply cut through the air and are met with little resistance. This makes it incredibly easy for batters to hit home runs in this park. Alan Nathan also states that a fly ball travels 5% further in Coors Field than a regular park. Coors Field is the most extreme example of this as it is in the “mile-high” city but even the slighter changes in altitude shows the same correlation.



Are helmets to blame?

Football has slowly surpassed baseball as America’s pastime. The high powered, violent, and exciting sport has pushed its way into the national spotlight and many players find themselves some of the biggest celebrities this country has to offer. The high scores, hard hits, and amazing fans seem to make football a perfect sport, or is it? There appears to be one glaring issue in the NFL. Safety. More and more players are starting to get concussions and even more former players are coming forward with lasting effects from these injuries. There were 199 NFL concussions in the 2015 season according to Frontline’s Concussion Watch. One of the NFL’s main plans of attack on the concussion epidemic is to try and improve the effectiveness of helmets against head injuries. My question is: would NFL players actually be better off without helmets?


Taking helmets off may seem counter-intuitive but it makes more sense than you would think. For one, helmets make players feel invincible. A player tends to hit more with his head and initiate contact that would other wise seem unsafe without a helmet. Removing the helmet would make players more conscious about using their head to hit others and hitting others heads. This is best exemplified in the sport of rugby. Rugby is arguably just as physical of a sport as football, with minimal padding and no helmet. Most Rugby players do not lead tackles with their head because they do not have this false sense of security that most football players do. One would hope that this false sense of security would be offset by the safety that helmets bring to players. The main goal of helmet’s are to reduce the violent crashing that occurs in a football tackle. The foam in a helmet is there to control the crash and hopefully lessen the strain on the nerves of the brain ( The goal is to reduce rotational force placed on the brain, but a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th annual meeting suggests that modern helmets are not actually reducing this rotational force placed on the brain. The study used crash dummies and placed 12 mph impacts on the heads of the dummies. They tested 10 different helmets to see if they reduced any of this rotational force placed on the brain. The study showed that helmets only reduced the risk of brain injury by 20 percent compared to not wearing a helmet (American Academy of Neurology).  This is no where near the safety players think they are receiving from these helmets. So the question becomes, would players not wearing helmets reduce these traumatic brain injuries? One study at the University of New Hampshire showed that implementing regular helmet-less drills decreased the number of head impacts among those in the study by 28 percent. This just shows that taking helmets off of players would make them think twice about colliding head to head with another player but it may not change the style of play quickly enough which could create an incredibly dangerous atmosphere. The slamming of heads into the ground would also become very dangerous. Also the whole game of football would have to be changed. Players would have to line up in the upright position, something that would not be easily adopted in the NFL. Maybe taking off the helmet completely is not the right answer, but it is interesting that it is even a discussion. Helmets are looked at as the only thing keeping players from concussions when in reality they may be doing more harm than good.

The evolution of my disinterest in science.

Hello everyone, my name is Mark Paterra and I am a freshman from Cleveland, Ohio. While scheduling classes my adviser told me I should take a science class my first semester to fulfill a GN requirement. After reading through the class descriptions, SC200 really caught my eye. I dreaded my high school biology class and physics class, and merely put up with my chemistry class. The only science class I seemed to enjoy was my AP environmental science class I took my junior year. This class focused more on modern issues with the world and what we can do to solve these issues.  SC200 appeared to be very similar to this in the sense that we would be looking at modern issues and critically thinking to either solve these issues or simply further examine them. This seemed like a class that I would get real life skills out of and help with my success throughout my college career. My interest for science only goes that far. I do not plan on majoring in a science and I feel that’s for a variety of reasons. One being that I am simply not that interested in certain science fields such as biology or physics but I feel that a bigger reason is how I was taught these subjects. My first real taste of science was freshman year biology. This class was characterized by the immense memorization of formulas and regurgitation of cycles. We would do occasional labs but none of which I enjoyed or saw a practical use for. I believe this is why I loathe almost every science class I have taken. Science has began to spark my interest again due to my heavy interest in sports statistics. Whether it be how the altitude of a baseball stadium effects the flight of the ball or the daily exit velocity/angle of every at bat on any given day, I have found myself interested in science again.mlbf_461919483_th_13