Martin Perez became the latest MLB pitcher to opt for Tommy John surgery to heal a ligament tear in his throwing arm. The decision comes on the heels of the Miami Marlins losing ace Jose Fernandez to the procedure.
By one count, Perez becomes the 19th major league player requiring Tommy John surgery in 2014. Other ulnar collateral ligament tear casualties include Patrick Corbin of the Diamondbacks, Ivan Nova of the Yankees, and Matt Moore of the Rays. The popularity of the procedure, which takes 12-18 months recuperation time, this season threatens to surpass the record 36 Tommy John surgeries undergone by major leaguers in 2012.
The 23-year-old Perez has gone 4-3 with a 4.38 earned-run average this season. The Venezuelan lefty opted to undergo the operation rather than to take his chances with a 10-12 week rehab process to try to strengthen the damaged ligament. The young pitcher matches the age profile of players succumbing to the elbow injury. Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci pointed out earlier this week that the average age of MLB pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery is 23.4.
The spate of pitchers succumbing to elbow injuries fueled conversation at MLB’s quarterly ownership meetings in Manhattan this week. News that a coach in Washington state allowed a high school senior to throw 194 pitches over 14+ innings earlier this week also led to heightened discussion about what can be done before athletes arrive in the major leagues to prevent the injury from developing.
While pitchers dread the injury, the procedure has taken on an almost mythic quality, which may help explain why Perez didn’t bother with attempting to rehab the injury as a means of bypassing the surgeon’s knife. A recent study in the Journal of American Sports Medicine found that 83 percent of players undergoing Tommy John surgery returned to the majors and almost all returned to play at some professional level. Pitchers rebounded from the operation by boasting higher winning percentages, fewer hits allowed, and lower ERAs.
Tommy John, the first pitcher to undergo the operation, boasted a 10-0 record upon his return to the majors in 1976 after enduring the procedure and subsequent rehab.