Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Tommy John Surgery and Adam Wainwright's Recovery
Above is 70s era Dodgers pitcher Tommy John, who is the pioneer of the surgery named after him. In 1974, John was 13-3 going into the All Star break and trying to help the Dodgers win their first pennant since 1966. Unfortunately for John his elbow was in bad shape and he needed his ulnar colateral ligament replaced. Until John, this was a career ender for a pitcher. Dr. Frank Jobe tried an experimental surgery in September of 1974 taking a tendon from his forearm to replace the damaged UCL. John missed all of 1975 and part of 1976 recovering from the surgery. However, John did make a comeback after his unprecedented surgery in mid-1976. John pitched until 1989 with several other teams and won more games after the surgery than before. All together Tommy John won 288 games in his career.
Three current Cardinal starters besides Adam Wainwright have made successful recoveries from Tommy John surgery including Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, and Jake Westbrook. Carpenter did miss most of two seasons with some other complications but came back dominant in 2009 and 2010 and was dominant in the postseason last year. Mariano Rivera had the surgery in the minor leagues and is now considered the best reliever ever. Josh Johnson of the Marlins had the surgery in August 2007 and was pitching in the big leagues 11 months later. Tim Hudson had his surgery in mid 2008 and since he's came back he's gone 35-20 and finished 4th in CYA voting in 2010. AJ Burnett was throwing in the high 90s after the surgery and threw as hard as 102 mph in 2004, a year after having Tommy John surgery.
John Smoltz missed 2000 after having Tommy John surgery, and came back in 2001 as a reliever to save his arm. After three and a half dominant years as a closer, Smoltz moved back in the rotation in 2005 and made two All Star teams after that. Kerry Wood had the surgery after his first big league season, and came back with some strong seasons as a starter. His durability was always a problem though, but he still is active as a reliever. Billy Wagner and John Franco enjoyed some late career success post surgery. CJ Wilson, Brian Wilson, John Axford, and Scott Feldman all had Tommy John surgery in the minor leagues. Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano have had mixed results since coming back from the surgery.
There are some pitchers who were unable to fully come back from the surgery though. Jose Rijo won the 1990 World Series MVP with the Reds and was one of baseball's better pitchers in the first half of the 90s. In 1995, he experienced elbow problems and wasn't able to fully recover from Tommy John Surgery. Rijo did make a brief comeback in 2001 and 2002, but he was past his prime by then. Pat Hentgen won a World Series and a Cy Young Award with the Blue Jays in the 90s. He pitched one year with the Cardinals in 2000, and signed with Baltimore after that. Hentgen required Tommy John surgery soon after, but never made a full recovery. Jaret Wright's promising career was derailed in the late 90s and early 2000s because of it. He enjoyed a successful year in Atlanta in 2004, but after that elbow problem ended his career. BJ Ryan and Darren Driefort were never the same after the surgery. Hong Chi Kuo needed Tommy John surgery twice, but was a pretty good reliever with the Dodgers for a few seasons.
Pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals had the surgery in August 2010. and made 5 starts last September for Washington going 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 24 Ks in 24 innings pitched. Strasburg likely will be at full strength this year.
Below is a link to ESPN's Dave Schoenfield's NL Central rankings. Lets say that Dave is skeptical about Wainwright's recovery from the surgery. Not only does he consider Wainwright the Cards third starter, he ranks him the third best after Bud Norris and Shawn Marcum. Wow, thats unbelievable. Joe Strauss of the Post Dispatch reports that Wainwright has started throwing to batters in Florida. He threw 30 warm up pitches and 30 pitches after that mixing in breaking balls as well. Wainwright said he felt like he was fully recovered from the surgery. The Cardinals will be careful with him, but I expect more out of him than the third best third starter in the NL Central and I'm sure he does too.