“I know one in four pitchers in the major leagues have Tommy John surgery. It’s more prevalent in the game today than it ever has been and there are a lot of people thinking about and talking about why that is.”
That statement came from Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson in a USAToday.com report. It’s a part of baseball in the 21st century, like hot dogs or sacrifice bunts – Tommy John surgery is happening more often than ever before in the sport’s history.
It’s true that the surgery is still a fairly new answer to elbow damage. As you can see in the chart above, Tommy John surgery became a mainstream operation at the turn of the century. But in the last few years, the number of big-league pitchers who need this surgery has increased dramatically.
I have a theory.
Growing up in the travel-team generation, where kids were expected to play a dozen summer tournaments all over the country and were pushed to throw a curve ball at 8 years old, professional pitchers have now been throwing competitively for 20 years. Arms are getting burned out and breaking down. Kids didn’t used to play as much baseball at such a high level as many children did in the 1990s and 2000s, and some of those kids are now in the pros, all grown up.
Our coaches always told us if we didn’t learn to throw pitches the right way, our arms would fall off. Turns out they knew their stuff.
Already this spring, there have been seven players who need or have received a Tommy John surgery on a bad elbow, according to KingsofKauffman.com. Last year, there were only 23 Tommy John surgeries in Major League Baseball, but that number has been far higher in most recent seasons.
This month, Atlanta Braves pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen went under the knife for their second such surgery. If players are reaching a new level of bad throwing and need multiple Tommy John surgeries, I have to figure it would further my theory that these guys have just been throwing for too many years, and their arms are a time-bomb that’s been ticking since elementary school.