Jonny Venters Is Broken Again

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:

venters

And here’s Isringhausen in the same year:

isringhausen

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.

venters

isringhausen

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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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.


18 Responses to “Jonny Venters Is Broken Again”

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  1. Gimme Ten Puddings says:

    So you’re saying I should go long on UCL futures?

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  2. Phantom Stranger says:

    For a couple of years, Venters had some of the nastiest stuff ever seen. He could even turn that pitch over, practically like a screwball against righthanded batters. He looked more unhittable most nights than even Kimbrel.

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  3. plasmaj says:

    are there many MLB pitchers without an inverted W? what about ones that have had TJ?

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  4. Nnn says:

    The inverted W is about the arm not being in position when the front foot lands, so your pictures are a few frames early I think.

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  5. highrent says:

    Jose Rijo also had three TJ surgeries.

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  6. highrent says:

    Hi I;m having trouble finding pictures showing he has a inverted W. I don’t think those pictures show he has one since an inverted W is elbows above the shoulders. From the pictures if he has one on google. Its slight or not consistent. If anything it looks like he has a sideways M. Google search doesn’t result in much comments about inverted W and him. Just want to know if he really has an inverted W.

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      Venters put tremendous torque on his elbow whenever he threw his breaking stuff, which was nearly every pitch he threw. It had serious angular depth breaking down in the zone, which was why righthanders had an impossible time facing him.

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  7. Grace says:

    Jonny’s arm was likely destroyed because Bobby Cox and Fredi Gonzalez asked him to pitch in 160 games over two years. That would shred the arm of a healthy reliever, much less one who had TJ surgery while in the minors.

    While I’m certainly no expert I don’t see any evidence that he had the inverted W. Look at photos of Brandon Beachy. He is a perfect example of someone with the Inverted W.

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  8. Not from NV says:

    Today I learned that Jason Isringhausen pitched in 2012.

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  9. LeeTro says:

    That is not the Inverted W. The W happens when both elbows are above shoulder height before delivery. I don’t think either of these guys had inverted W’s. I know Venters pronated his arm before release, showing the ball to CF, and also pronated strongly on his sinker. He basically rotated his arm 90 degrees or more 3 times every time he threw the ball, so this is unfortunately not a surprise to see.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      This is my understanding as well, the classic inverted W guys like Prior, Strasburg, Smoltz, etc all have their elbows above their shoulders at the point when their front foot hits the ground.

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  10. kamikaze80 says:

    no offense, but this writer has no idea what he’s talking about.

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    • Paul says:

      Offense intended, and you’re an ass. Even if the inverted w has dubious scientific backings, it’s not like there is anyone out there that actually fully understands which mechanical aspects cause injuries. There are more educated theories and less educated theories, but this writer never says the inverted w is gospel.

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  11. Heyward > Posey says:

    No inverted W there. Venters career was killed because Bobby Cox and Fredi Gonzalez threw him out there 79 and 85 times back to back years.

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  12. Vechi8 says:

    Both sides have arguements. Being a Washingtonian, I have seen Jonny at his best with pure dominance against my beloved Nats. Even so, I didn’t remember his motion per se. I looked him up in google images and there are images of him with a text book inverted W and others showing a perfect form 90 degree ball aimed toward CF.

    Not sure how his motion is so different in each of the pictures. Could he tip his pitches?? His fastball may be more inverted and deuce may be more text book.

    Those not sure of the inverted W look no futher than the motion of Stephen Stasburg. I worry about him every outing..

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  13. Jason B says:

    Isn’t an inverted W an M? Can we start calling it an M-motion? Economy of syllables!

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