Dr. Frank Jobe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the UCL

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Dr. Frank Jobe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the UCL

Post by jleddy » Thu Jul 11, 2019 5:46 am

There is a collection of three-word phrases that strike the fear in pitchers, fans and front offices: "ulnar collateral ligament" and "season-ending surgery". Injuries can happen to any baseball player and seemingly more to pitchers, be it their shoulder or elbow. When a pitcher feels pain in his elbow, specifically the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), it's often the sign of a major surgery is on the horizon: Tommy John surgery.

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Named after a fictional baseball player called Tommy John who computer programmers decided to name the UCL repair after, the procedure follows when the elbow ligament is frayed, torn or ruptured. In the Brewster, when a pitcher is sidelined with a damaged UCL (typically 10-14 months), it can derail a player's career or a team's season. But how bad can Tommy John surgery really be? Let's take a look at major UCL injuries* from the last seven seasons** to see the before and after effects:

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The above looks at 47 assumed Tommy John surgeries between 2032-2038 for pitchers only (position players can suffer from injured UCLs but were not included). The analyzed pitchers were major league members of the Brewster Baseball Association, so minor leaguers or pitchers in the EBA and UMEBA were not included.

Looking at the skill ratings, velocity and overall ratings before and after the injury, it's clear that a damaged UCL and Tommy John surgery have an immediate negative effect.
  • Loss in velocity was very minimal, dropping only an average of 0.4 MPH. (In the simulated Major League Baseball universe, improvements in the surgery and rehabilitation has actually shown velocity can not only maintain after the injury, but some cases have shown slight improvement. This has not yet been the case in the Brewster Baseball Association.)
  • Stuff (drop of 0.3) and Movement (drop of 0.2) were affected, however some pitchers showed improvement in skills after the surgery. Was it due to a repaired -- and possibly strengthened -- UCL or just natural maturity and development?
  • On average, Control dropped nearly a full rating point (0.8), the biggest skill impacted by the surgery.
  • Overall ratings dropped 6.9 points between the scouting report before the injury and the scouting report after the recovery time. Although not shown, some pitchers saw their overall rating return to pre-injury heights the further removed from the surgery while some pitchers saw their overall rating continue to drop as their career continued.
  • Of the 47 cases of UCL injuries, 12 pitchers (25.5%) saw their careers end within two years of Tommy John surgery. 6 of the 12 were over 30 years in age, so the retirement isn't as much as a surprise but there were 6 who could be considered "in their prime" that saw their careers cut short due to the injured UCL.
The analyzed pitchers were an assortment of starters, relievers and closers, a variety of ages, and no one team and/or head trainer stood out more than others, so unfortunately, every pitcher is at risk to some degree to suffer a damaged UCL. It should be noted that many pitchers had a "wrecked" or "fragile" injury proneness, but it can not be determined if those attributes were the result of the injury or were labeled prior to the injury. Either way, once a pitcher suffers a damaged UCL, their health going forward tends to drop in efficiency.

In summary, at the very least, when a pitcher faces Tommy John surgery, there's an immediate negative impact on his team, losing that pitcher for a long stretch of time, sometimes as long as 16 months. That team must replace the injured player for the length of recovery, as well as be burdened with his salary while not playing. But looking at the skill ratings, a pitcher can return to 90% of who he was before the surgery, and sometimes can be just as effective post-injury. There is a greater risk for future injury and a possibility that the pitcher could never recover and retire prematurely, but a damaged UCL and Tommy John surgery is not nearly the death knell that many make it out to be.

* Only fully torn or ruptured elbow ligament injuries were analyzed, plus partially torn UCL injuries when Tommy John surgery was mentioned.
** Due to unavailable scouting reports in 2030, the latest season analyzed is 2032.

BBA TJ Study.xlsx
(17.01 KiB) Downloaded 3 times
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Re: Dr. Frank Jobe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the UCL

Post by jiminyhopkins » Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:27 am

Ooh, Ooh, now do torn labrums! I can't wait to see that!
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Re: Dr. Frank Jobe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the UCL

Post by recte44 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 9:28 am

Yup
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Re: Dr. Frank Jobe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the UCL

Post by RonCo » Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:20 pm

Without actually recompiling the data, I'd read this as saying that if you have TJ at 26 or younger, there's a reasonable chance you'll come back equal or better for the experience, but older than that is problematic. And the older, the worse?
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Re: Dr. Frank Jobe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the UCL

Post by jleddy » Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:58 pm

RonCo wrote:
Thu Jul 11, 2019 1:20 pm
Without actually recompiling the data, I'd read this as saying that if you have TJ at 26 or younger, there's a reasonable chance you'll come back equal or better for the experience, but older than that is problematic. And the older, the worse?
Yes, 100%.

As @jiminyhopkins alluded to, I'd love to see the differences between shoulder (labrum/rotator cuff) and elbow (UCL) injuries. If OOTP mirrors MLB, shoulder injuries should be more detrimental than elbow injuries.
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Re: Dr. Frank Jobe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the UCL

Post by RonCo » Thu Jul 11, 2019 2:15 pm

I believe you would find that to be true.
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Re: Dr. Frank Jobe or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not Hate the UCL

Post by niles08 » Thu Jul 11, 2019 6:42 pm

Wow that is great stuff.
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