Monday morning, the Mets announced that 25-year-old pitcher Zack Wheeler has a torn UCL and will likely require Tommy John surgery. In 2013, the Mets saw ace Matt Harvey suffer the same injury. Earlier this spring, Rangers star Yu Darvish revealed he needed the surgery.
In September of 2014, there had been 53 Tommy John surgeries since 2012. This includes great or potentially great pitchers like Jose Fernandez, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Matt Moore, Martin Perez and Tyler Skaggs. Sometimes players come back from Tommy John surgery and are as strong as ever. Some players never recover fully. Some have the surgery multiple times in their career. Some don't even make it back.
Tommy John was always a concern, but it seems to have blown up in the last few years. Somehow, though, the Brewers have been one of a handful of teams to escape the wrath of the surgery fairly well. Using Jon Roegele's amazing spreadsheet of organizational Tommy John surgeries over time, the Brewers have seen the second-fewest number of Tommy John surgeries from pitchers over the last 10 years:
|Team||Pitcher Tommy Johns since '05||# of those from Major League Players|
Only the Giants have had fewer pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery in the last 10 years within their organization. Not a single team has had fewer Major League pitchers need the procedure.
The only two Brewers' players in the majors to have the surgery since '05 are Chris Capuano in 2008 and David Riske in 2009. It has been nearly six years since a Brewers pitcher in the major leagues has needed Tommy John surgery.
The Brewers have had a couple important minor leaguers suffer Tommy John: Wily Peralta had it back in 2007, Zach Braddock way back in 2004 and Johnny Hellweg last year. But that's nothing compared to, say, the Braves who have had Kris Medlen (x2) and Brandon Beachy (x2) and Jonny Venters (x2) and Eric O'Flaherty and Tim Hudson and more all have the surgery. Or the Mets with Wheeler and Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell and Mike Pelfry and Billy Wagner and more. Or the Rangers with Yu Darvish and Martin Perez and Neftali Feliz and Frank Francisco.
Have the Brewers (and Giants, and Mariners, etc) just been lucky? Or is there an organizational strategy in place here to specifically avoid the types of players that might be prone to Tommy John? The Brewers tend to favor harder-throwing pitchers, which, uh, isn't always the best way to avoid shredding your elbow. But stalwarts like Yovani Gallardo have had good mechanics. It's also important to note that the Brewers have struggled to promote pitchers from within and instead look to free agency and trades which could allow them to focus on players (like Kyle Lohse) who are less of injury risks.
Also worth noting: The Brewers medical staff has started to see some praise recently. As Tom Haudricourt pointed out in 2012, the Brewers' excellence at avoiding injury isn't limited to just Tommy John surgery: The team has also logged the second-fewest total days on the DL over the past decade from the time that article was written.
Whether it's luck, the medical staff, scouting or -- more likely -- a combination of all three and more, the Brewers have been fortunate to see a minimal amount of Tommy John surgeries. Losing an important pitcher for a year or more can be devastating, and that's something the Brewers have not had to deal with in a long time. That's a great trend for the team as so many other organizations trend the other way.