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Last week, the bell tolled for the 2018 season of the Diamondbacks’ Taijuan Walker. The week before that, it tolled for the Padres’ Dinelson Lamet, and before him, the Angels’ JC Ramirez and the A’s A.J. Puk. If it feels like March and April are particularly full of Tommy John surgery casualties, that’s because they are, at least when it comes to recent history. In early March, just after Rays righty Jose De Leon discovered that he had torn his ulnar collateral ligament, I noted some recent trends regarding everyone’s favorite (?) reconstructive elbow procedure, including the extent to which those early-season injuries are rather predictive of the season-long trend. With April now in the books, and with my nose still in Jon Roegele’s Tommy John Surgery Database, the situation is worth a closer look.


Via the data I published in the De Leon piece, just under 28% of all Tommy John surgeries done on major- or minor-league pitchers (not position players) from 2014-17 took place in March or April, with the figure varying only from 24.8 % to 30.0% in that span. Even expanding the scope to include February as well, which doesn’t increase the total number of surgeries by much but does capture significant ones such as that of Alex Reyes last year — gut punches that run counter to the optimism that reigns when pitchers and catchers report — the range is narrow, with 27.5% to 33.0% of pitcher surgeries taking place in that span.

Note that the early-season trend doesn’t hold up so well if you look back further than 2014, though the overall 28.4% rate for the 2010-18 period — a number that will go down as more pitchers fall victim this year — is still within the observed range. The breakdown of the pattern for years prior could simply be a data collection issue; Roegele began building his database in November 2012, and as his efforts have become publicized within the industry, there are now more eyes on every TJ surgery and (presumably) fewer going unreported below the major-league level. There are also fewer recorded as having taken place on January 1, Roegele’s shorthand for dates unknown within that calendar year; from 2010-13, it’s about 13%, falling to below 10% since the start of 2014.

Anyway, if recent form holds, based on the aforementioned range for the 2014-17 period, we can expect somewhere between 69 and 84 pitcher TJs this year, still well below the 100-plus in 2014 and 2015 but possibly a bit higher than last year. Re-running my graph from the De Leon article:

For the period, 35.7% of all TJ revision surgeries took place from February through April. I note the declining trend of revisions mainly as another possible sign that the industry is past what Travis Sawchik recently called “Peak Tommy John.”

Alas, that’s cold comfort to the poor pitcher who needed it in March, namely Jacob Lindgren. A 2014 second-round pick out of Mississippi State by the Yankees, the left-handed Lindgren made seven relief appearances for New York in May and June of 2015 before undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur. Due to a slow recovery, he never made it back to action that year, and he made just six appearances at High A Tampa in 2016 before undergoing his first TJ in August of that year. The Yankees non-tendered him that winter with the intention of re-signing him, but Braves GM John Coppolella swooped in and signed him to a major-league deal — even knowing that he would not pitch in 2017 — which apparently infuriated the Yankees. After throwing live batting practice in early March, he began experiencing elbow soreness, which ultimately led to a trip to Dr. James Andrews’ operating table.

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