Dr. Frank Jobe and what he meant to baseball

Matt Harvey underwent Tommy John Surgery and isn't expected to return until 2015. - Jim McIsaac

In 40 years Tommy John Surgery has gone from experimental to accepted. This post discusses the impact Dr. Jobe had on pitchers who underwent it.

Dr. Frank Jobe passed away on Thursday, March 6th. He developed the Tommy John Surgery (TJS), the popular name for the reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament. Tommy John was the first pitcher to have this type of surgery, and at the time, it was truly radical. John was 31 and had already pitched 12 years when he underwent the procedure. These are Tommy John's splits before and after the procedure:

Year Age W L ERA G GS IP H R ER BB SO BF ERA+ WHIP
1963-1974 20-31 124 106 2.97 355 318 2165.2 1989 843 715 633 1273 8941 116 1.211
1976-1989 33-46 164 125 3.66 405 382 2544.2 2794 1174 1034 626 972 10751 107 1.344

Perhaps it was just good luck, but John's performance certainly helped propel the popularity of TJS. It didn't take off immediately, since there is a healthy fear of cutting into a pitcher's arm and replacing a tendon, but as more pitchers underwent the procedure and were able to return to the major leagues, the stigma decreased. This table shows pitchers who have undergone TJS and how they performed before and after the procedure:

Pitcher Pre-TJS W L ERA ERA+ Post-TJS W L ERA ERA+
Tommy John 1963-1974 124 106 2.97 116 1976-1989 164 125 3.66 107
Erik Bedard 2002 0 0 13.50 49 2004-2013 67 76 3.94 109
A.J. Burnett 1999-2003 30 32 3.86 108 2004-2013 117 100 4.03 104
Chris Carpenter 1997-2002 49 50 4.83 98 2004-2012 95 44 3.07 133
Joba Chamberlain 2007-2011 20 13 3.70 121 2012-2013 3 1 4.74 87
Neal Cotts 2003-2009 10 12 4.63 100 2013 8 3 1.11 375
Scott Erickson 1990-2000 135 116 4.43 102 2002-2006 7 20 5.87 74
Scott Feldman 2003 2005-2013 51 56 4.62 96
Eric Gagne 1999-2005 25 21 3.28 124 2006-2008 8 5 4.49 100
Matt Harvey 2012-2013 12 10 2.39 152
Orel Hershiser 1983-1990 99 65 2.71 131 1991-2000 105 85 4.17 100
Daniel Hudson 2009-2012 28 17 3.68 111
Tim Hudson 1999-2008 146 77 3.48 127 2009-2013 59 34 3.35 117
John Lackey 2002-2011 128 94 4.10 107 2013 10 13 3.52 116
Francisco Liriano 2005-2006 13 5 2.74 164 2008-2013 56 57 4.42 91
Ryan Madson 2003-2011 47 30 3.59 122
Charlie Morton 2008-2012 23 45 5.06 78 2013 7 4 3.26 108
Jamie Moyer 1986-1991 34 54 4.56 87 1993-2012 235 155 4.19 107
Mike Pelfrey 2006-2012 50 54 4.36 92 2013 5 13 5.19 78
Jose Rijo 1984-1995 111 87 3.16 123 2001-2002 5 4 4.60 95
Ben Sheets 2001-2008 86 83 3.72 115 2010, 2012 8 13 4.22 97
John Smoltz 1988-1999 157 113 3.35 121 2001-2009 56 42 3.28 132
Joakim Soria 2007-2011 13 15 2.40 181 2013 1 0 3.80 110
Stephen Strasburg 2010 5 3 2.91 139 2011-2013 24 16 2.97 131
Billy Wagner 1995-2008 39 37 2.40 181 2009-2010 8 3 1.48 275
Adam Wainwright 2005-2010 66 35 2.97 140 2012-2013 33 22 3.39 109
David Wells 1987-2007 239 157 4.13 108
Jake Westbrook 2000-2008 63 64 4.31 102 2010-2013 42 39 4.34 87
Brian Wilson 2006-2012 20 20 3.21 129 2013 2 1 0.66 556
Kerry Wood 1998 13 6 3.40 129 2000-2012 73 69 3.71 116
Jordan Zimmermann 2009 3 5 4.63 92 2010-2013 40 30 3.22 121

There is no common thread. Some were like David Wells, and had the procedure prior to throwing a major league pitch. Others were like John Smoltz and Kerry Wood, and went from being starters to relievers, and still others weren't able to return to big league form like Jose Rijo and Ben Sheets. The procedure was no guarantee the pitcher could return to the major leagues, let alone have success, but it did markedly improved the chance. At the time of John's surgery, Jobe placed the odds of success at 1 in 100--by 2009 the odds improved to 85-92 percent chance of complete recovery.

Pitchers who most recently underwent the procedure include Matt Harvey and Daniel Hudson. Harvey isn't expected to return until 2015, and at his age and the current state of the Mets, there's no reason for him to return any sooner. Daniel Hudson showed significant promise for the Diamondbacks, but hasn't pitched since 2012 with no imminent return on the horizon. Mike Pelfrey had a rocky 2013 after his return from TJS, which could be as much the fault of a poor Twins team. On the other hand, Neal Cotts returned from a three-year layoff to pitch effectively for the Rangers.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has categories for managers, umpires and executives, as well as the Ford C. Frick Award to commemorate broadcasters for "major contributions to baseball." I'm not advocating a new category of HOF inductee to recognize achievements like Dr. Jobe's, but I suspect the pitchers listed in this post might.

Some of the greatest advances in baseball over the past 100 years include desegregation, expansion, international players, increased salaries and better conditioning. Dr. Jobe's development of TJS ranks right up there in terms of impact on player careers.

The term "revolutionary" is overused, but it's not hyperbole to use it with regard to Dr. Jobe. Before TJS, pitchers pitched, their arms fell off and teams went to the next lively arm--TJS gave new life to pitchers who would previously have been discarded. Pitchers at every level owe Dr. Jobe a debt of gratitude for developing the solution to a problem bedeviling baseball since its beginning.

All data from Baseball-Reference.com

Scott Lindholm is a web columnist for 670 The Score in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLindholm.

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