Baseball Has a Serious Pitcher Problem

They're getting injured and requiring surgery at an alarming rate, the Ringer reports
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 28, 2024 5:30 AM CDT
Baseball Has a Serious Pitcher Problem
Pitchers are getting injured more often, and the issue reaches all the way down to youth leagues.   (Getty / fsstock)

Baseball has an "ace problem," writes Ben Lindbergh in the Ringer. As in, its pitchers are getting injured at an alarming rate and requiring Tommy John surgery to fix their elbows. More precisely, to repair their ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL. Talk of a "Tommy John epidemic" has circulated around MLB for several years, and Lindbergh's piece has stats to suggest it's worse than ever:

  • Of the 166 players on injured lists for Opening Day, about 80% were pitchers.
  • From 2011 to 2013, six top draft picks had the surgery before being drafted. From 2021 to 23, the number was 24.
  • Last season, about 35% of pitchers had the telltale elbow scar of the surgery, up 10 percentage points from 2017.
  • In March of this year alone, 15 pitchers had either the surgery or the newer internal brace procedure to fix UCL tears. Scores more remain in "elbow limbo" as they take time off for inflammation and the like.

The basic problem is that pitchers' success typically correlates to how fast they throw, either to blow fastballs by hitters or make the ball move. This philosophy starts in the youth leagues, where young pitchers often compete in multiple leagues. And the human elbow can't sustain the strain. So what to do? There are no easy answers. Lindbergh reports that the league has begun its first comprehensive study of pitcher injuries, with the goal being to come up with tangible solutions. Lindbergh, for his part, suggests the league reduce from 13 the number of pitchers a team can have on its roster—the idea being that pitchers would have to pace themselves for a long season and know they can't throw at full velocity on every pitch. Read the full story. (Or read other longform recaps.)

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