100 MPH = Tommy John Surgery?

Bruce Rondon is just the latest hard throwing pitcher to need Tommy John surgery (TJS). Besides Rondon, it seems like just about every pitcher who throws over 100 mph ends up needing repairs on their ulnar collateral ligament. Neftali Feliz. Brian Wilson. Stephen Strasburg. Matt Harvey. I decided to look at the injury rates of pitchers who can throw the magical 100 mph.

Since 2007 when PITCHf/x has been available, 56 different pitchers have touched 100 mph. I went through each of their injury histories to see if they had Tommy John or any other major arm surgeries. Here are the results (Note: some pitchers had more than one major injury type – see Joel Zumaya).

Arm Surgery: % of pitchers
TJS: 25%
Elbow (non TJS): 16%
Shoulder: 17%
Arm (other): 4%
None: 46%

Twenty-five percent of pitchers with Tommy John surgery may seem like a lot, but the number of major league pitchers with the surgery now stands at 33% according to Will Carroll. The numbers are close enough with the small sample to be basically considered the same. It doesn’t seem to indicate these pitchers are more inclined to have Tommy John surgery.

The one intriging number is 54% of these hard throwers had at least one major arm surgery. The number seems high, but it is tough to compare it to the general pitcher population. I am able to look at this group of pitchers in a different way.

Historically, 39% (min 120 IP) of starters and 33% (min 20 IP) of relievers end up on the disabled list. On average, starters spend 66 days per trip and relievers 58 days. To begin with, there is just not enough starting pitcher seasons (19 total with five just from Justin Verlander) to really make much of a projection. The small sample had 36% go on the DL for an average of 30 days per trip though.

If I move onto the relievers, a larger sample of pitchers exist. In total, 64 seasons exist when a relief pitcher hit 100 mph. In total, 39% went on the DL the next season for a 18% increase over the historic average. Additionally, they spent an average of 72 days on the DL or a 24% increase.

In conclusion, throwing over 100 mph doesn’t necessarily lead to more Tommy John surgeries. The main issue the lack of samples, especially with starting pitchers. By using a larger sample of relief pitchers, the hard throwers are more likely to end up on the DL and for a longer amount of time than the average relief pitcher. As more data becomes available in the future, hopefully the actually affects of throwing harder are better understood.



Pitchers who threw over 100 mph in 2013

Name Top Speed
Aroldis Chapman 104.0
Bruce Rondon 102.8
Henry Rodriguez 102.3
Yordano Ventura 101.9
Kelvin Herrera 101.5
Trevor Rosenthal 101.4
Carlos Martinez 101.3
Gerrit Cole 101.0
Nate Jones 100.8
Fernando Rodney 100.7
Jose Dominguez 100.6
Andrew Cashner 100.2
Greg Holland 100.2
Nathan Eovaldi 100.1
Jeremy Jeffress 100.1
Matt Harvey 100.1
Danny Salazar 100.0

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

18 Responses to “100 MPH = Tommy John Surgery?”

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  1. jake says:

    With Chapman’s 104mph last year we should have seen this DL stint coming.

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  2. jonas says:

    Whats up with guys like Corbin and what specifically do you think led to his injury (innings jump?) I havent done any research.

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      He had a pain in his arm during a game and decided to throw through it. Oops.


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    • James says:

      I think its pitchers in general have this issue, but there are so many mechanical movements in a pitch the entire kinetic chain is in use. If just one link in the chain is marred or weak (or improper), it pushes stress into the two weakest joints of the body (Shoulder and Elbow). and it doesnt have to be the shoulder thats weak, it could be something like bad knee stabilization or poor hip rotation, it just all travels up like an earthquake travels through land.

      Many guys have good mechanics, but you need absolutley great mechanics to withstand injury, regardless of throwing 90mph or 100 mph, because both are still really really fast compared to the general population.

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  3. Dawn says:

    I think a better indicator for future TJ surgery is playing for the Braves.

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  4. Common Ground says:

    Interesting stuff here, Jeff, thanks.

    Not directly related, but would it be possible to run a comparison of overall pitcher injury rates between present day and the time before pitch counts when teams didn’t treat their pitchers like delicate pieces of fine art? Everybody says that high pitch counts are dangerous, but is there any actual evidence of this?

    It seems to me that pitchers are getting hurt about as often as before, but that’s based purely on anecdotal evidence. Given the ongoing debate over what’s causing these injuries, I’m surprised no one has ever really looked at it closely and run a data-driven analysis on this subject before. Were pitchers getting hurt at a higher clip than 39 percent prior to, say, 1998? Based on your article here, we have the data that could answer that question.

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    • SeattleSlew says:

      If you add up little leagues and all the leagues players play up through the big leagues, today they might still throw more pitches than they did before. Today baseball is a year round sport and I think that adds a lot more stress to the arm.

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  5. Nick says:

    The increased injury rate you found in relief pitchers could be due to these guys pushing their bodies to human limitations.


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  6. Cameron Bloom says:

    Did Kimbrel never hit 100 last year?

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  7. junior says:

    Singles (1B) 1 Doubles (2B) 2
    Triples (3B) 3 Home Runs (HR) 4
    Walks (BB) 1 Runs Scored (R) 1
    Runs Batted In (RBI) 1 Stolen Bases (SB) 2
    Strikeouts (K) -0.5 Hit by Pitch (HBP) 1
    Caught Stealing (CS) -1

    Innings Pitched (IP) 1.5 Earned Runs (ER) -1
    Wins (W) 5 Losses (L) -5
    Saves (SV) 5 Blown Saves (BS) -3
    Strikeouts (K) 1 Hits Allowed (H) -1
    Walks Issued (BB) -1 Hit Batsmen (HB) -1
    Quality Starts (QS) 3

    in this points league 12 team im thinking of trading david ortiz,alex wood for 2nd baseman either kinsler or kipnis or cano look at my team

    C Yan Gomes, Cle C
    1B Joey Votto, Cin 1B
    2B Kelly Johnson, ny 2B
    3B Manny Machado, Bal 3B
    SS Everth Cabrera, SD SS
    OF Ryan Braun, Mil OF
    OF Jose Bautista, Tor OF
    OF Matt Holliday, StL OF
    UTIL David Ortiz, Bos DH
    Bench Billy Hamilton, Cin OF
    Bench Torii Hunter, Det OF
    Bench mike moustakas,kc 3B
    Bench brad miller, sea ss

    sp Madison Bumgarner, SF
    sp Chris Sale, CWS
    sp Alex Cobb, TB
    sp Julio Teheran, Atl
    sp Alex Wood, Atl

    rp Ernesto Frieri, LAA
    rp Aroldis Chapman, Cin

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  8. Matt says:

    Wow Will Carroll. That is easily the best article I’ve ever seen over at BR. And shocking.

    Thanks for this article!

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  9. The king and his court says:

    Allow underhand.

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  10. Steve Dalkowski says:

    Was this available in 1963?

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  11. Marcus says:

    So add up all of the injuries and you will either have surgery or not have surgery. 50/50 on two options, go figure stats.

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  12. Strikethree says:

    If you create an identification and relationship between 100 mph and ulnar ligament surgery, you may have to give it a different name than Tommy John Surgery.

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