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:
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:
|Ben Sheets||2001-2008||86||83||3.72||115||2010, 2012||8||13||4.22||97|
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