This year, eighteen pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery in the MLB (last I checked) and we are not even half way though the season. There is tons of speculation about why we are seeing such a rise in ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries and I don’t think it is ever easy to boil any injury down to one single factor. Even when you think you have everything figured out and have crossed your “T’s” and dotted your “I’s” injuries can creep up because of factors that you might not be aware of or factors that are outside of your control.
That being said, one of my good friends works in major league baseball as a manual therapist and strength coach and during a conversation one day he mentioned that it would be interesting to know how many pitches Jose Fernandez (the second year phenom pitcher for the Florida Marlins who pitched in 8 games this year before undergoing Tommy John Surgery and will miss the remainder of the season) threw in those eight games. Again, hard to pin-point injury to one single factor and just having something like pitch count doesn’t provide you with enough information to really understand the whole situation (although famed orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, does feel that throwing too much and overuse may be one potential factor in UCL injury). However, I thought it would be interesting to look at so here are some of the things I quickly found after looking at a few websites and getting pitching statistics.
During Jose’s 2013 season (his rookie year) he:
- Threw 2604 total pitches over 28 starts
- Averaged 93 pitches per game
During the first 8 games of the 2013 season he:
- Threw 665 total pitches
- Averaged 83 pitches per game
During Jose’s 8 games in 2014 he:
- Threw 770 total pitches (105 more during the first 8 games of this season than the 2013 season)
- Averaged 96.25 pitches per game (averaged 13 more pitches per game over the first 8 games than the 2013 season)
Graphically, this is what Jose’s 2013 season looked like:
You can see that over the first 11 games the teamed seemed to take it a bit easier on the rookie and ease him into the swing of things (there may be reasons for this – again, tough to know with just pitch count information) – before really pushing it the rest of the way.
In comparison, here is what the first eight games of the 2013 and 2014 seasons looked like together:
I don’t know that there is a big take away here other than it is interesting to look at the way Jose was managed from his rookie year to his second year in terms of pitch count. There was a considerable jump in the first 8 games of the 2014 season compared to the 2013 season and the second half of the 2013 season. It would be great to have more information – daily readiness information, fitness information, how much throwing he does/did between starts, how much he did in spring training, etc, on-and-on.
Perhaps one factor (of many) that plays a role in UCL injury is the management of pitchers in terms of how much they throw or how it is determined that they are fit enough to go out and throw a certain amount or tolerate greater volumes of throwing? I’m sure the picture is much larger than this though.