Tommy John Surgery: Are pitchers a ticking time bomb?

Written by on August 29, 2013 in Arm Care, Pitching Theory - 5 Comments

According to bleacherreport.com, out of the 360 pitchers that started the season on the active Major League roster, 124 of them have had to undergo Tommy John Surgery.  Sadly, the number is likely to rise and the worst may yet to come.

The surgery rate among pitchers continues to rise because of the ongoing problematic culture within the game of baseball.  Trends happen in all walks of life and the game of baseball is in a current trend of bad information that preaches velocity, travel baseball, showcase events, and poor instruction at the youth level.  All facets that directly place more stress on the arm. All current American MLB pitchers have grown up in this era.  Let me provide you a glimpse of what young pitchers are subjected to, and often believe is the right way to train and throw a baseball.

I would love to see the medical research that supports the training of 20 lb. wrists on a young thrower to increase velocity in the video above.

matt harvey tommy john

Matt Harvey suffers partial tear in UCL

Baseball suffered a devastating blow this past week when we learned Matt Harvey has suffered a partial tear in his right UCL.  He, like so many others before him, is now ultimately headed for Tommy John surgery.   Many claim he has perfect mechanics, and now our media is relaying the message that every pitcher is a ticking time bomb.  Is this true?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Harvey’s mechanics were better than the average MLB pitcher but he too had faults in his delivery that added more stress to the elbow and shoulder.  But it’s more than just his mechanical pattern, he’s operating within the current structure of MLB.  Let me ask you a question?  Why have no pitchers in the Hall Of Fame undergone Tommy John Surgery?  A better mechanical pattern exists in the natural athleticism inherent in many overhead athletes but unfortunately the natural pattern gets destroyed in the problematic fuel placed into the minds and bodies of pitchers across America.

Our goal at Baseball Rebellion is to influence the next wave of baseball players from a young age to dramatically impact the game of baseball in years to come.  Many current players are already too far gone in bad information, overuse, and saturated in the pitfalls of  today’s culture.

However, I do think some pitchers may have the ability to overcome a mechanical deficiency and make adjustments that allow the opportunity to prolong their careers.  One such pitcher is Brandon Beachy.  I first came across Beachy when I was scrolling though MLB.com’s injury report and I saw Beachy went on the DL in June 2012 with Tommy John Surgery.  When I first looked at his mechanics, I instantly labeled his delivery of showing characteristics of the “UP, DOWN, & OUT” pattern.  If you want to know exactly what I’m referring to, I encourage you to read my 3 part series of the detrimental effects of this delivery on young throwers here.

Brandy Beachy MechanicsThis summer I managed to attend just one Durham Bulls game, but I happened to witness a Brandon Beachy rehab start for AAA Gwinnett on Sunday July 14th.   I had  no idea he was scheduled to start, but when I saw him warming up on the field, I instantly thought of how I used his delivery in a video of WHAT NOT TO DO.  When I watched him move in his dynamic warmup, play catch, and throw his pen before the game, I couldn’t help but think……this guy could actually make a legitimate adjustment with a couple adjustments in his training pattern.

But, will he be able to make the adjustment?  Because as of right now, NO mechanical adjustment has been made since he underwent his first Tommy John Surgery in 2012 and now after just 5 starts back in Atlanta, Beachy found  himself back on the DL with elbow soreness. What adjustments needs to be made?  Watch the video below.

Brandon Beachy’s Mechanics

Keep the head behind the back hip

whitey ford lead hip

Whitey Ford keeping his head behind the hip

One of the best coaching cues any pitching instructor can use is the simple phrase “keep your head behind the hip”.  The head and spine will work to get back to neutral (centered) as the body moves down the mound and this is why it’s imperative for any pitcher to keep his head behind the hip as long as he can until acceleration of the trunk and arm occurs.  This doesn’t mean LEAN BACK!   A pitching must allow his lower half to move towards the target, hips open, and then the trunk can begin to rotate.  If the head drifts forward in the throw, you lose the ability to rotate a large percentage of your mass.

If Brandon Beachy could add just a small element of better lower half mechanics his head would naturally shift behind his back hip and he would allow his elbow to stay slightly below the shoulder at foot strike.  When the elbow gets above the shoulder at foot strike, the trunk rotation will send the elbow out in front of the body without the support of the entire torso.

Take a look at the elbow positions of Tom Seaver and Greg Maddux.  Many instructors today would never teach such a position.  90 % of all my students initially think the elbow is supposed to be higher than the shoulder because some coach has engrained this in their brain.

Notice the elbow slightly below the shoulder

Notice the elbow slightly below the shoulder

Any pitcher can benefit from keeping his head behind the hip longer because of the exponential benefit produced from the delayed torso.  If you want a strong supported finish, you must keep the head, spine, and arm delayed at foot strike.  The torso and arm must rotate together and decelerate back into the body together.  Look at the difference between Beachy’s finish compared to Clayton Kershaw’s finish.  Beachy stops his chest moving forward and slams his knee back into the body before the chest and arm have the opportunity to get out in front into proper release.  Kershaw allows the trunk to continue to rotate together out in front and continue back into the body.

Brandon Beachy showing a weak finish vs. Kershaw showing a strong finish

Weak Finish vs. Strong Finish

Getting to the Major’s is one thing, but staying there is another.  Many pitchers at the highest level are in drastic need of a mechanical adjustment to help promote the longevity of their career.  However many pitchers have no idea what they are doing wrong, and a mechanical adjustment may be scary.  But if you are recovering from Tommy John surgery, wouldn’t you actively try to figure out what caused your injury in the first place?  Sadly, we are getting to the point where the game of baseball feels all pitchers will inevitably blow out.

But just imagine if you could manage to stay healthy and sign that second contract.  The one that has lots of zeros and will set up you and your family for life.  What has to be done to get to that point?

LOOK AT FILM AND ASK QUESTIONS

- Justin Orenduff, Leader of the Baseball Pitching Rebellion

 

 

 

 

About the Author

Justin was a Freshman All-American at GW University and then transferred to VCU where he earned all American Honors. In the summer of 2003 Justin was selected to the USA National Team where he pitched alongside Jared Weaver and Justin Verlander. He was then drafted 33rd overall by the LA Dodgers. After retiring from the Dodgers in 2009, Justin returned to VCU where he earned his B.S. in Business Management. Justin has dedicated himself to educating the masses about the pitfalls and dangers of misguided and misinformed training techniques and create efficient, sustainable, and healthy deliveries for all ages. He authors Baseball Rebellions Pitching Blog and is the lead pitching instructor at ITS Baseball, Baseball Rebellions research facility.

5 Comments on "Tommy John Surgery: Are pitchers a ticking time bomb?"

  1. ed kovac August 30, 2013 at 10:11 am · Reply

    I am a hitting instructor and that’s pretty much what I teach because that is my expertise. I do not teach throwing technique because I do not know the answers conclusively. Your article shows how pitchers are brought thru the system based on performance and adjustments are made during their progression by people who do not have a full understanding of the physical dynamics of the body. this is true in hitting as well. hopefully, coaches at all levels will become sensitive to injury potential of their recommended adjustments in the pitching motion.

  2. Steve Black August 30, 2013 at 1:05 pm · Reply

    Justin – do you have any thoughts on infield and outfield throws? – I don’t know many position players dealing with TJ Surgery, but I know a lot that have dealt with cranky elbows – I also know you apply these same technique adjustments to position players.

    These are the thoughts I use now to avoid elbow issues: Draw the ‘elbow’ back, pull – drive- snap.
    (Draw just loads the elbow with thoracic extension – Pull with the abs/reverse thoracic extension – Drive the shoulder to the target – Snap the wrist with thumb down.)

    thanks for your thoughts,
    steve

  3. sam August 30, 2013 at 6:25 pm · Reply

    Justin,
    My son has demonstrated simular mechanics to what you teach. He was able to pick it up a 4-5 years old. He always has thrown accurately and efficiently. He’s had several coaches try to get him ” more over the top” or “straight down the hill” for years. He’s been involved in travel ball and plays quite frequently at a high level. He’s never experienced arm pain ever…… I feel it’s because he kept the blinders on and did what worked and felt good to him. Plus I always felt it looked right.

    Several of his larger teammates thow up,down,out, they throw harder yet they all have ice hanging off them after every game. Another ritual my son has never participated in. Being involved with travel I also see alot of kids play hurt. Pain is feedback something your doing is wrong.

    At the end of the season, the numbers are very equal between my son in his teammates. But they throw harder so they are considered “better pitchers”. I have started to see coaches enjoy anyone who will listen to them. How can you combat “the system” approach to pitching?

    Once mine (who’s a freshman this year) hit the big field at 13 he pretty much wasn’t throwing anymore because of his size ( 5’6 100lbs.) and lower velocity (64-68 mph) It’s like coaches are really scared of someone hitting the ball when it’s the most efficient way to get someone out in my opinion. It’s hard to break the mold when you can’t get a chance.

    Should I encourage him to continue pitching or focus on position play. Why does velocity mean more than the numbers you can put up? I’m starting to think you could go to a showcase, not crack 70, throw a no hitter, and no one would even care about you.

  4. Ted Wood April 17, 2014 at 10:05 am · Reply

    I still think it’s easy to talk about bad mechanics after an injury and find flaws in a pitcher. Show me a guy that has perfect mechanics and no arm problems and I say it doesn’t exist. At some time no matter what you do you will have arm trouble as a pitcher it’s just too ballistic a movement not too. I would love to hear what guys you think have the best mechanics and will probably avoid arm problems.

    • Justin Orenduff April 17, 2014 at 11:05 am · Reply

      Ted,

      Yes, the article mentions Brandon Beachy and Matt Harvey, both had surgery prior to me writing the article. But, I don’t think you have fully read through my material. If you had, you would know I have posted information on pitchers who have yet to undergo surgery and I’m not simply commenting. Your view on pitchers is a prevailing view of most baseball thought and is actually what’s wrong with the game today. There are ways to improve the mechanics of a pitcher, but you must be able to actually train and create the optimal pattern. There is a mechanical pattern that exists that allows a pitcher to be supported for an exponentially more number of innings. Sadly, many pitchers in the game today do not resemble this pattern. I plan to change the way pitching is taught to young players that will eventually pave the way for the next wave of throwers. The pitcher you see today is flawed by the information over the last twenty years, and we haven’t seen the worst of the injury epidemic we are currently undergoing.

      3 pitchers we like: Cliff Lee, Yovanni Gallardo, Hiroki Kuroda

      3 pitchers we don’t like: Julio Teheran, Lance Lynn, and Jose Fernandez

      Thanks,

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