Tommy John surgery 'epidemic'?

  • It's "bad" mechanics: The more people in baseball study biomechanics, the more aware they're becoming that some pitcher deliveries carry more danger signs than others. Yet the trend line increasingly leads pitchers down the road to "bad" deliveries, not "good" deliveries. "I think, as a sport, we've actually done a good job of limiting pitches and counting pitches," said Jeff Bittiger, a former big league pitcher, independent league manager and pitching coach, and now a scout for the A's. "But I think this is more a matter of style, the way the game is played now and the type of deliveries that are being taught." By that, he means, the trend is toward pitching "downhill," at the bottom of the strike zone. Which means the "only way to finish those pitches is straight down," he said. "And to get there, you have to be a 'short-strider.'" Remember that old, long-striding "Tom Seaver drop-and-drive delivery" that pitchers used in the 1960s, '70s and early '80s -- while [theoretically] staying a lot healthier and pitching many more innings? "No one would ever teach that now," Bittiger said. But even when biomechanical studies -- and prior injuries -- give clear signs that a pitcher's delivery is leading him toward a serious injury, "when they're professional ballplayers, it's hard to change them," Ciccotti said. "And sometimes their coaches don't want to change them -- because that's what got them here."

  • It's velocity: Never, at any time in history, have we seen more pitchers who can throw a baseball at 95 mph or higher. And never have we seen more pitchers who can approach, or even burst through, the 100 mph barrier. So it seems like simple biology that more velocity equals more elbows exploding. Right? "That higher velocity," Ciccotti said, "means higher force going through the ligament." So, although the entire body's ability to have legs, hips, core and shoulder work together to allow a pitcher to throw that hard is "amazing," Ciccotti says, it's still "Russian roulette. At high velocity, any pitch can cause a rupture. ? So the faster you throw the ball, the more chance you'll be an elite pitcher -- but there's a price to be paid." That, too, is a logical and scientific conclusion. But earlier this year at FanGraphs, Jeff Zimmerman unveiled the results of a fascinating study of the 56 big league pitchers since 2007 who have been clocked at 100 mph by Pitch f/x. He found that 25 percent of them eventually had Tommy John surgery. Which seems like a lot -- until you remember that one of every four men who pitched in the big leagues in 2012-13 was a guy who had had TJ surgery at some point. So there appears to be little difference in the Tommy John rate between pitchers who breathe that 100 mph fire and those who don't. But one problem, Zimmerman told, "is that there just are not enough 100 mph throwers to give us a large enough sample size."

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