With news today that Shohei Ohtani would be opting for Tommy John surgery, we’re feeling just a bit of sadness for the poor guy, who has brought some added excitement to Major League Baseball this year. Here he is throwing absolute gas (101mph reached) against the Astros.
Ohtani, who at only twenty-three years old, had become both a pitching and batting sensation for the Angels this year, might not return to baseball until 2020. And we know the fate of those who have Tommy John, and well, the results haven’t been all that great.
We know from past studies that on average roughly 4 out of 5 pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery actually return to playing baseball. And even if they can make it back, there is usually no guarantee that they can even come close to the form they had previous to the surgery. As the aforementioned article from fangraphs notes, age is important, and the fact that Ohtani is only 23, makes it for a much higher probability of full recovery than if he were say 30 or 31 even.
I find these numbers enlightening, but also quite staggering: In the most recent complete decade (2000-2009), the median result for a major league pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery is appearing in about 60 games or logging about 100 innings pitched over the rest of his major league career. That’s about the number of appearances we would expect from a typical healthy reliever in one season. It’s roughly the number of innings pitched a healthy starting pitcher would amass in half a season. That’s not the sort of post-surgery career one might envision.
So, good thing is that Ohtani has age on his side, but the bad part is that he’s having Tommy John surgery. Even Tommy John himself has been campaigning against Tommy John surgery,as shockingly many surgeries today are being performed on teenagers (close to 50%) who are pressured to perform in order to push for that college scholarship.
Here’s hoping that Ohtani can return to peak form…for the love of baseball.