News broke last night that Braves reliever Jonny Venters has yet another torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. This comes a day after the Braves shut down Venters’ rehab program after the pitcher felt discomfort. We now know why he felt said discomfort.
Venters had joined a growing group of pitchers like Brian Wilson, Joakim Soria, and, more recently, Jarrod Parker who all required a second Tommy John Surgery. According to our own Jeff Zimmerman’s TJS database, were Venters to get a third surgery, he would be the second pitcher to ever do so. The first was Jason Isringhausen.
In his time with the Braves, Venters proved himself to be a very worthy reliever. He holds a career 10.11 career K/9 rate and a nearly 80% strand rate. His 2012 campaign was derailed a bit by unluckiness in both the BABIP and HR/FB categories but he was still worth a hair more than a win in a season in which he was still “coming back” from Tommy John. Now, his career certainly seems in jeopardy.
If I knew how to predict UCL injuries, FanGraphs would be working for me, not the other way around. But some things can be seen as harbingers, even in a hindsight/20-20 sort of way.
At least as far as the numbers go, however, Venters didn’t really raise a lot of eyebrows. He had a solid fastball, but not a blazing one. He threw his slider about 20% of the time, which isn’t an obscene number or anything.
The problem is most likely in Venters’ delivery, and that’s when it gets tricky. Here’s Venters in 2012:
And here’s Isringhausen in the same year:
There is a violent theme here, both Venters and Isringhausen certainly give it their all. There’s also another thing to be found, if you slow it down. I’ll do that for you, don’t worry.
There it is. The dreaded “Inverted W.” The inverted W theory certainly isn’t gospel, but it does have evidence in its corner. I think the more general idea is that pitching is an odd and strenuous motion, and making it more odd and more strenuous isn’t really a great idea. There’s a fine line between stuff and violence that pitchers have to toe every day. Venters just seemed to tip to the wrong side more often.
Venters could have a third Tommy John Surgery. He has yet to turn 30. There may be something there, yet. Though one case is the smallest of sample sizes, it should be mentioned that it didn’t turn out that well for Jason Isringhausen — though he was much older, in fairness.
Venters has a chance to be a major league pitcher again. The odds are against him, and he’d be making history if he were to come back and not suck. Anything is possible with a brand new elbow. But unless a change comes to his delivery, he may run out of donor ligaments before too long.
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