May 30, 2024

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There's no Tommy John boom this spring.  (It's always this bad)

There's no Tommy John boom this spring. (It's always this bad)

Saturday hit Major League Baseball with some of the worst injury news in recent memory.

That morning, the Cleveland Guardians announced that pitcher Shane Bieber needed Tommy John surgery. Bieber opened the year with two great tours and didn't seem to be in pain, so the news came out of nowhere. He spent his offseason working on adding throwing speed and honing his secondary pitches.

As the Bieber news broke, the baseball world was already awaiting the results of an MRI on the right elbow of Atlanta Braves outfielder Spencer Strider, who was roughed up in his start on Friday, throwing the ball with diminished velocity and indicated pain in the elbow afterward. Late Saturday afternoon, Braves manager Brian Snitker told the assembled media that the MRI “wasn't good.” It's possible that Strider will head for a second Tommy John surgery.

On Sunday morning, Yuri Perez, the Marlins' promising young outfielder, underwent Tommy John surgery, which reconstructs the MCL in the pitcher's throwing elbow. The hits continued Tuesday: Boston's Nick Pivetta and Washington's Josiah Gray were placed on the IL with flexor strains, and Houston's Framber Valdez hit the IL with elbow inflammation.

For many, it seems like the sky is falling on major league pitchers and their elbows.

The usual suspects, such as increased pitch speed, are often cited from maximum-effort deliveries. There is concern that year-round throwing and speed-building programs put too much stress on the arms. These issues extend to the youth level. The Major League Baseball Players Association also issued a statement outlining its concerns about the pitch clock, which debuted last year and was scaled back for this season; The PA does not believe that the impact of reducing the time between pitches has been properly studied. Some believe that observing sticky objects puts more stress on pitchers' joints as they try to catch the ball effectively.

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There are certainly more pressures in the modern game that potentially contribute to injury, but the truth is that while this spring has been bad for elbow injuries, it has always been that way in recent years. It's always bad.

While the star-level names might make this year look worse, this spring is no exception, according to theScore's examination of John Rogell's Tommy John database.

Spring is when most elbow injuries occur. Through the first 100 days of 2024, nine MLB pitchers have undergone Tommy John procedures compared to an average of 6.1 in the previous decade.

High, yes, but there have been a record 11 Tommy John surgeries involving MLB pitchers in the first 100 days of 2014 and 2021.

Furthermore: Examine all professional pitchers and you'll find that Tommy John's number is much lower by far.

Combining the major and minor league teams, there were 16 surgeries within the first 100 days compared to an average of 33.3 such surgeries during the previous 10-year period.

Although there is variation from year to year, what is also true is that events have increased over time.

From 2000 to 2013, there were 15.4 Tommy John surgeries in the first 100 days among all professional pitchers and 3.6 for major league pitchers. In the 1990s, there were fewer such procedures, and there were none before MRIs became common imaging tools in the late 1980s.

There's no doubt that more stress builds up on the elbows over time – and that's just the physics of throwing speed. But there doesn't seem to be a noticeable increase this year, with new factors like the pitch clock.

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Perhaps things will get worse this year. It's only April. But what doesn't seem to change is the motivation to throw harder.

The math is simple: MLB hitters hit .275 against fastballs thrown between 90 and 93 mph last season. Against fast balls 96 mph and above:.234.

A pitcher needs to draft a mid-90s fastball early. Professional dominant hitters generally start with a high-velocity fastball. It is difficult to see this change, and to know what to do about it – if anything.

Injuries are bad. It feels worse this year. But the truth is that this spring is not strange. It's simply more of the same.

Travis Soucek is TheScore's senior baseball writer.