Tommy John Surgeries Are Down In MLB. Will It Last? – FiveThirtyEight

For many seasons, it seemed like the number of pitchers forced to have Tommy John surgery each year was going to keep climbing forever.

But there’s evidence that something remarkable has happened in the past couple of years: The Tommy John epidemic has slowed.

In 2014, 130 pitchers in major and minor league baseball had the surgery, according to a list maintained by FanGraphs analyst Jon Roegele. There were 143 in 2015, followed by 122 in 2016 and 100 last year. In 2018? So far, 75.

The harder players throw, the more stress is put on the ulnar collateral ligament, a triangular, roughly 1-by-2 centimeter ligament that connects the humerus bone of the upper arm with the ulnar bone of the lower arm. With pitchers throwing faster fastballs nearly every year of the pitch-tracking era, this band of fibers has never been under more stress. Not only are big-name professional players going under the knife, but young amateurs are also entering professional baseball with red flags.

Roegele has recorded 1,483 professional and high-level amateur1 Tommy John surgeries since John’s was performed by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974. (John pitched in the majors for 14 years after the experimental surgery and notched 164 of his 288 career wins after his elbow was repaired.) It’s been 44 years since that first procedure, and half of the recorded surgeries have occurred in the nearly six and a half years since April 1, 2012. The injury and surgery became such an epidemic in 2014 that a Grantland article described the campaign as “the season Tommy John took.”

The ligament tearing has been estimated to cost teams hundreds of millions of dollars as players typically require a surgery and recovery process that lasts more than a year.

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