Tommy John Surgery Won’t Help MLB Pitchers Regain Performance

Full disclosure: you have to be a real baseball nerd to find this interesting.

A recent study by the Henry Ford Health System has found that the Tommy John surgery, which has been administered to pitchers such as Brian Wilson, Stephen Strasburg, and Ben Sheets, is unlikely to give a pitcher the performance he had before the surgery.

The study, the largest of its kind, analysed results from 168 MLB players from 1982 to 2010, and found three areas of diminishing returns. Innings pitched declined from and average of fifty-nine to fifty, walks and hits per inning pitched increased from 1.40 to 1.48, and earned runs average increased from 4.15 to 4.78.

“Tommy John surgery is an effective surgery and most pitchers get back to pitching after surgery. But it’s not going to improve their level of performance,” says Vasilios Moutzouros, M.D., the study’s senior author.

“There’s been a perception that the surgery will make you better. Our findings debunk that perception. Eighty to ninety percent of major league pitchers will get back to pitching at the major league level but they just won’t be as effective as they were before injury.”

Perhaps more compellingly, the control group was superior to the surgery group in every performance measure where difference was observed.

The surgery remains a good way of treating UCL injury, but things won’t get better. According to another co-author, Robert Keller, “We even have parents who come into our clinic asking if their children can have the surgery even before they injure anything because they think potentially it can make them better. What this study shows is it doesn’t. Matter of fact, players get statistically worse after having this surgery.”

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