Tommy John surgery. Just the name alone sends shivers down the spine of a baseball fan.
The ligament replacement surgery has been verging on an epidemic thus far in 2014, with 19 players succumbing to ulnar collateral ligament tears through just about a quarter of the season, after only 24 players required Tommy John a season ago. Gavin Floyd, Chad Billingsley and Daniel Hudson were the major casualties from a season ago, until Matt Harvey went down in late August.
This season, it hasn't just been the sheer numbers that have increased, but also the star power. Of the 19 players to go under the knife, three were All-Stars in 2013 and two more ran ERAs equal to or better than 2.00 in 2012. Throw in two top prospects in Jameson Taillon and Miguel Sano, and a bevy of young talented arms that haven't yet made their mark in the Major Leagues and you have a lot of heartache stemming from Tommy John for MLB teams and their fans alike.
And fantasy owners.
However, interestingly owners who have been hit by the Tommy John plague have actually fared better than those who have not. Teams that lost a Major League starting pitcher to Tommy John have on average better than 41 points in pitching categories, while those who have avoided the injury average just shy of 39 points.
Here's a look at the 14 players drafted in LABR Mixed who underwent Tommy John surgery and the ramifications it has had on the league thus far.
Jose Fernandez (Round 4): Fernandez is the biggest loss of the year by far. The 22-year-old phenom was running a cool 1.74 ERA before his final, elbow-pained start of the year. Fernandez was the only starter taken by Baseball Prospectus duo Bret Sayre and Mike Gianella in the first nine rounds of the draft, which should have translated to significant pitching issues—especially considering that Sayre and Ginaella have two other pitchers on this list. However, the strong play of pre-injury Dillon Gee and the shrewd pickups of Jason Hammel and Mark Buerhle in week two have buoyed team Baseball Prospectus to the middle of the pack in the pitching categories. The team would be even higher if not for the terrible luck it has had with its closers.
Kris Medlen (Round 8): Medlen never threw a pitch during the regular season, needing Tommy John surgery in mid-March. Medlen was taken as Mastersball's top starter in Round 8, after Todd Zola selected a pair of closers in rounds five and six. The Medlen pick definitely hurts a bit when considering Julio Teheran, Michael Wacha and Masahiro Tanaka all went in the next handful of selections. Despite getting zero production out of Medlen, the James Shields-led staff has produced top-10 pitching stats through the first quarter of the season.
Matt Moore (Round 11): Moore is the second of the 2013 All-Stars to go down with a UCL injury, and the second of Sayre and Gianella's hurlers. The Rays' starter made only two starts lasting a combined 10 innings in 2014. It isn't easy to replace the 17 wins Moore accrued a season ago, but team Baseball Prospectus has shown no problems earning W's, tied for the league lead in wins thanks in part to free agent pickup Jordan Lyles' five victories.
Patrick Corbin (Round 13): The Corbin selection is an example of the pitfalls of the early draft date in LABR Mixed. It was discovered that Corbin's UCL had damage way back on March 16, which predates many drafts, but not this one. As a result, Bloomberg Sports' Craig Glaser selected Corbin in the 13th round as his team's third starter, ahead of the likes of Lance Lynn and Hiroki Kuroda. Corbin was the owner of an unsightly 5.19 ERA after appearing in the Midsummer Classic, but the young lefty had the talent to be a major part of Glaser's rotation. Even without Corbin, Glaser's pitching staff has produced the fifth-best mark in the league, led by aces Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke.
Bobby Parnell (Round 14): With closers always hard to find and harder to maintain, losing one for the season after Opening Day is a tough pill to swallow. For KFFL's Tim Heaney, that's exactly what happened with Parnell. After injury questions swirled around the Mets' stopper all offseason, his UCL gave out after a single outing in 2014. There is some level of consolation for Heaney however when you consider the closers who went off the board following Parnell: Tommy Hunter (6.46 ERA) and Nate Jones (four runs, zero outs in 2014). Without Parnell, KFFL has struggled in the saves department, checking in at 12 out of 15, and only reaching that high thanks to free agent pickup of Hector Rondon.
Jarrod Parker (Round 17): Parker is another pitcher who would have never been selected had the draft date been later, needing Tommy John surgery in mid-March. He's also the first of three pitchers taken in round 17 that ultimately needed Tommy John. Parker had a consistent, yet unspectacular, 2013 season and was to be at least that in Steve Gardner's rotation. Against the norm, it's been tough sledding for Gardner's USA Today team in the pitching department, ranking 12th in pitching categories. Outside of Sonny Gray, C.J. Wilson and Yordano Ventura, Gardner's pitching staff has been plagued by injury and ineffectiveness.
Brandon Beachy (Round 17): Beachy appeared to be on the precipice of greatness in 2012, sporting a 2.00 ERA through 13 starts before needing Tommy John surgery. A year and a half removed from the surgery, Beachy was supposed to be a high upside pick this season—until he needed the surgery for a second time this March. FNTSY's Doug Anderson looked to Beachy as his fifth starter instead of guys like Dan Haren, Chris Tillman and Rick Porcello. Scott Feldman has helped to prop up Anderson's staff, which falls in the middle of the pack in pitching.
A.J. Griffin (Round 17): Griffin wasn't expected to need Tommy John when he originally injured his elbow, but by the end of April the pitcher went under the knife, ending his 2014 season. Griffin was a reliable force for the Athletics in 2013 and was to provide the same stability for Rotowire's Jeff Erickson rotation. The Griffin selection smarts a little bit when considering the starting pitching taken right after him: Scott Kazmir; Alex Wood and Ervin Santana. As has been the trend this year, Tommy John hasn't hurt Erickson's pitching production, as his team ranks third in points earned via pitching stats.
Josh Johnson (Round 18): Johnson was something of a reclamation project after posting an unsightly 6.20 ERA with the Toronto Blue Jays this past season. A move to spacious PETCO Park was supposed to help Johnson, but the righty never threw a pitch in his new home, going on the disabled list in March and undergoing surgery in late April. Sayre and Ginaella's fifth starter is also their third that needed Tommy John surgery this season. Aside from Ervin Santana, the pitchers taken immediately after Johnson haven't been overly impressive thus far either.
Ivan Nova (Round 20): Nova wasn't effective this season before succumbing to the elbow surgery, allowing 19 runs in 20.2 innings over four starts. The rest of Ray Murphy's Baseball HQ pitching staff has been mostly impressive, leading to a fourth-place ranking in pitching categories. The strong pitching of free agent acquisition Phil Hughes and late-round picks Dallas Keuchel and Garrett Richards have gone a long way in helping a staff that has gotten less than it bargained for from David Price.
Martin Perez (Round 23): Perez was boom or bust this year before going down with his elbow injury. Back-to-back complete-game shutouts in late April were followed by three starts of a combined 13.1 innings and 19 earned runs, though the balky elbow could have contributed to the implosions. Strong pitching from Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer has propelled Jason Collette and Paul Sporer's team to the upper portion of the pitching rankings, despite the injuries to Perez and ace Chris Sale.
Luke Hochevar (Round 27): Hochevar made the transition to standout setup man last season after many failed years as a starter. Anderson was hoping for some help in the ERA and WHIP categories after Hochevar posted 1.92 and 0.82 marks last season. He was also a strong candidate for saves in Kansas City should injury have stricken closer Greg Holland. Zack Britton has been very successful as a setup man in Anderson's lineup without Hochevar in the picture.
Miguel Sano (Round 28): Now, to the prospect portion of the draft. Sano is the only player thus far to need Tommy John surgery that is not a pitcher. Baseball America's No. 6 prospect coming into the season, Sano has immense promise as a big power bat from the left side of the infield, where he could have made an impact with the Twins had he produced in the minors. Instead, Jake Ciely will have to do without the promise of a midseason jolt from the 21 year old infielder.
Jameson Taillon (Round 28): Taillon was another top prospect that offered tantalizing potential when he earned the call to the Major Leagues. Just 22 years old, Taillon more than held his own between Double-A and Triple-A last season and was very likely to make his Big League debut in 2014. After undergoing Tommy John, Taillon will spend 2014 watching from the dugout and Razzball's Rudy Gamble seeks help for his league-worst pitching elsewhere.