Dr. James Andrews: Uptick in Tommy John surgeries could be blamed on radar gun

Dr. James Andrews, famous for his work on Tommy John surgery, said that the radar gun could be to blame for the major uptick in pitchers needing the surgery.

Appearing on MLB Network Radio, Andrews also pointed fingers at pitchers throwing harder and at a younger age.


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“Poor mechanics continues to always be a problem. Breaking balls at an early age continues to be a problem,” he explained. “The radar gun is a problem, because these kids are all trying to throw 90 mph. The red line for the Tommy John ligament in high school is 80-85 mph. The ones that throw beyond that are going beyond the development property of their normal ligament and they’re getting hurt.”

Dr. Andrews also said that year-round pitching contributes to the strain on the ligament, which leads to increased chance of damage and tears.



The Mets recently had three pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery: Matt Harvey, Bobby Parnell and Jeremy Hefner.

In 2013, the Mets started working with a technology company that tracks pitcher deliveries and biomechanics.

According to people with the company, the Mets were KinaTrax’s first MLB partner. The company was allowed to install cameras around Citi Field and have been tracking pitchers since early summer 2013. The goal is to collect data on how pitcher mechanics impact the game, how they compare from season to season and what that information can say about a pitcher’s overall health (MetsBlog, Oct. 2013).




12 comments
mets2891
mets2891

I think the uptick in Tommy John surgeries are being caused by the success of Tommy John surgeries.  They've been so publicized you get the feeling that pitchers are starting to see them as inevitable and almost a rite of passage.

WoodsideNative
WoodsideNative

And who is supposed to fix bad pitching mechanics? The pitching coaches.And what have a lot of us been saying about Warthen? Sure, maybe the bad mechanics goes back further than him, but he's at the top and he should be the one who points out wrong stuff.

Doubleday
Doubleday

I don't know, Dr. Andrews.  When I over-threw trying to increase velocity, I tore my rotator (shoulder), not my UCL (elbow).  I think the whole Tommy John thing has to do with an off-speed pitch like the slider, not the fastball. 

Shawn Sparks
Shawn Sparks

If MLB wants to get a handle on all these injuries, they've got to put more focus on what's happening at the amateur level.  The pitchers blowing their elbows out early during their MLB careers are the guys who get tagged as "special" early on and spend their youths going from school ball to summer ball to travel ball without any significant breaks instead of switching sports every few months and having their bodies get a reprieve from the making the same movements over and over.  Then their coaches tack on an extra relief appearance or two every week because he's got no one else to go to.  If a guy plays college ball, his coach there doesn't think twice about leaving him to throw 160 pitches during the big conference game that goes 12 innings because his own 6-figure contract rides on it.


The pitch counts in the minors were a step in the right direction, but a bit misguided. By the time these guys sign a pro contract, they've already got almost 20 years of wear and tear accumulated.  You can't just suddenly step in after the fact and think you're going to fix anything.

Pat Brady
Pat Brady

But when their franchise pitcher complained about tightness in his forearm they never sent him for an MRI? STILL amazed by that. Admittedly I don't understand the whole process by why not have a guy like Harvey go in for an MRI every month during the season?  

sylow59
sylow59

The reality is that the bad mechanics got these guys to where they are. Lilliquest of the Cards recently said if you change the mechanics of a lot of them to avoid the stress they're out of baseball because they'd get shelled. Correcting them is not a clear cut choice.

nncyel
nncyel

@doubleday  I'm sure your experience as a pitcher provides you with insights that the average fan lacks, but to doubt someone who has devoted their life to understanding this issue is, I don't know, what's the word, delusional, perhaps. Of course, he could be wrong - doctors and scientists aren't infallible, but my guess is he knows a lot more about this topic than you do.

Shawn Sparks
Shawn Sparks

@doubleday Your delivery has a lot to do with how much stress is on the shoulder and elbow individually, so which one is more at risk is going to vary from person to person.

Also, at least by the time pitchers are in college or the minors, they're constantly doing strengthening/endurance programs to avoid rotator cuff problems.  The weakest link is always going to be the UCL because there's no way to make it stronger except to rebuild it after it's been messed up.

nncyel
nncyel

@Shawn Sparks  Thank you for your informative posts on this topic. This is what a blog like this could be so useful for - not the juvenile ranting and raving that typically constitutes the bulk of posts: Collins is an idiot; Tejada sucks; I hate the Wilpons. When I saw the blog entry I thought - this could be one of the more interesting topics posted on here in a while - and it gets almost no attention. But 2nd guessing the manager and GM and hurling insults at the players - that needs to be spewed forth day after day - wash, rinse, repeat. Gets old after not too long.

Brian Webster
Brian Webster

@Shawn Sparks What can MLB do about what happens to these pitchers in college, high school, junior high and even earlier?

Shawn Sparks
Shawn Sparks

@Pat Brady The problem with that is

a) to fully evaluate a UCL, it's not a normal MRI, it's an MR arthrogram which requires an injection, which is not something you want to do a multi-million-dollar elbow on any regular basis, and

b) No MLB pitcher is going to have a normal UCL. The abnormalities are usually just an adaptation and harmless because the other structures that form the elbow successfully compensate. It's impossible to look at an MRI on the front end and predict "Man, you're about to have a significant tear" vs. "This is just normal for you."

Definitely, though, these pitchers need to be more forthright about the first signs of discomfort, and they need to be fully evaluated ASAP. 

Shawn Sparks
Shawn Sparks

@Brian Webster @Shawn Sparks Educate the people running the game at those levels and lobby for rules to protect the developing arms (e.g., innings limits, restrictions on the number of teams a player can be on in a given year).  None of this is new or groundbreaking.  The amateur game is full of "recommendations." The problem is nobody follows the recommendations because they're not codified and enforced. MLB could push to change that.

Just as a point of comparison, the NFL doesn't hesitate to exert its influence upon amateur football.  No reason MLB couldn't do the same.