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15 MLB Pitchers in the Tommy John Hall of Fame

by: Esteban On  Wednesday, May 14, 2014


This week, baseball fans everywhere got some bad news. Jose Fernandez, the most exciting young pitcher in the game, has hit the DL, and doctors are recommending “Tommy John” (i.e. elbow ligament replacement) surgery. That means nobody is going to get to watch this electrifying 21-year-old pitch for another 12-18 months, which is just depressing.

Of course, it’s hardly surprising any more. We’re currently in the middle of what some are calling a Tommy John epidemic. Fernandez is just the latest high-profile casualty.

What’s the cause? Why are so many elite pitchers going under the knife? Well, it’s likely a combination of two factors.

The first is that more guys are having it done because the procedure is now so effective. In the past pitchers may have tried to rehab elbow injuries. Now they’re electing to go under the knife right away so that, ultimately, they’ll be in peak physical shape for longer.

The other factor? Guys are overworking their arms from an earlier age. With millions of dollars at stake, elite prospects are playing ball year round, playing for multiple teams in multiple leagues, trying to develop their talent as quickly and thoroughly as possible. And this is destroying arms.

Today, in light of this terrible news about Jose Fernandez, we’re going to take a look at some other big-name pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery over the years to prove that, while it sucks now, there a bright future lies ahead.

Take a look…


15. Matt Harvey (2013)


By the end of last season the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez was the hottest young pitcher in baseball. However, for the first half of the season, that unofficial title belonged to Matt Harvey, the starting pitcher for the National League in the 2013 All-Star Game.

Of course, now both of them are casualties of elbow ligament replacement surgery. Harvey went down last September and is out until spring training 2015. Now Fernandez is going to be out until at least the second half of next season.


14. Eric Gagne (1997, 2005)

14 eric gagne - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

Former Dodger closer and 2003 NL Cy Young winner Eric Gagne is a member of the 2x Tommy John club. His first ligament replacement came in 1997, before he’d ever cracked the big leagues. So that would have to be considered a success story.

His second came in 2005 and basically ended his three-year run of dominance…and the rest of his career. He was never the same.


13. Neftali Feliz (2012)

13 neftali feliz - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

Neftali Feliz won the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2010 as the closer for the Texas Rangers, and he stayed on as closer through the 2011 season.

In 2012 the Rangers made the wise decision to move the guy into their rotation. But unfortunately, just eight games into his career as a starter, he blew out his elbow. That knocked him out for the rest of 2012 and most of 2013, and right now he’s still struggling to get back to the majors.


12. Brian Wilson (2012)


Brian Wilson is another guy who’s had TJ surgery two times. The first came in 2003, long before anybody had any clue who this guy was. He recovered, broke into the big leagues with the Giants in 2006, and by 2010 had become one of the games best closers.

Unfortunately, he broke down again in 2012, had Tommy John surgery, missed the rest of 2012 and most of 2013, and has been putrid so far in 2014.


11. Kerry Wood (1999)

11 kerry wood - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

If you want to know why MLB teams have become so obsessed with pitch counts and innings in recent years, you just need to look at the career of Kerry Wood. In 1998 he had the most exciting rookie season anybody had seen since Doc Gooden, highlighted by what many say is the greatest game ever pitched—a 20-strikeout, one-hit performance against the Houston Astros on May 6.

However, following the playoffs—yes, the Cubs made the playoffs in 1998—he had Tommy John Surgery, which knocked him out for all of 1999.

Wood did manage to get healthy and pitch pretty well from 2001 through 2004. Hell, in 2003, he even led the league in strikeouts. But unfortunately, that was his last great season. By the age of 27 he was done as a starting pitcher.


10. Tim Hudson (2008)

10 tim hudson - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

We follow up the sad story of Kerry Wood with a happier one about Tim Hudson. He went under the knife for Tommy John surgery in 2008 at the age of 32 and made a full recovery. In 2010 he went 17-9 with a superb 2.83 ERA and finished fourth in Cy Young voting. He followed that up with three more solid years in Atlanta and then went out to replace former A’s teammate Barry Zito as the fifth starter in San Francisco—where he’s going great so far.


9. Josh Johnson (2007, 2014)

9 josh johnson - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

Things do not look good for Josh Johnson right now. He has TJ surgery in 2007 and recovered to become one of the best pitchers in baseball by 2010. However, now he’s having his second TJ surgery. And in case you haven’t picked up on the trend, guys who have had the procedure two times have not fared very well.


8. C.J. Wilson (2003)


What’s that? You don’t remember C.J. Wilson having Tommy John surgery? Well that’s because it happened in 2003, before he’d broken into the big leagues. For a few years after that he toiled in the bullpen for the Rangers. However, in 2010 they moved him to the starting rotation, he transformed into one of the most reliable innings-eaters in the game, and now he’s making a fortune selling dandruff shampoo.

Hopefully the 33-year-olds elbow will hold out just a few more years.


7. Anibal Sanchez (2003)

7 anibal sanchez - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

Anibal Sanchez’s story is very similar to Wilson’s. He had his surgery in 2003, before he broke into the majors. Then he recovered to catch on as a starter with the Marlins and, after getting traded to the Tigers and performing extremely well, he signed an $80 million contract and led the AL with a 2.57 ERA in 2013.


6. Stephen Strasburg (2010)

6 stephen strasburg - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

Before there was Matt Harvey or Jose Fernandez, there was Stephen Strasburg. The Nats drafted him out of college and, upon getting called up in 2010 at the age of 21, he immediately became one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Then he blew out his elbow, missed almost all of 2011, and after a solid comeback year in 2012 was famously shut down toward the end of the season…and the Nats lost to the Cardinals in NLDS, despite having the best record in baseball.

In 2013 Strasburg was good, and he’s only 25 so there’s still plenty of time. But so far, post surgery, he hasn’t been the elite pitcher he was at the age of 21.


5. John Lackey (2011)


John Lackey established himself as an ace with the Angels, leading the AL with a 3.01 ERA in 2007 at the age of 28. However, his first two seasons with the Red Sox were terrible, and at the end of 2011 he finally decided to go under the knife.

Given that he was 33 years old, it looked like maybe Lackey was done. However, in 2013 he came back and had his best season since 2007 and helped the Red Sox win the World Series.

So I guess everything worked out.


4. Chris Carpenter (2007)

4 chris carpenter - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

I’m fairly convinced that Chris Carpenter would be a sure-bet for the Hall of Fame had his career not been marred by injuries. And what’s really amazing is that, in between these injuries, he was an absolute stud.

The first of his major injures came in 2003 and involved his shoulder, so that doesn’t concern us here. However, he recovered from that and became a force for the Cardinals from 2004 through 2006, winning 51 games in three seasons and a World Series ring.

Then in 2007 he pitched just one game before hitting the DL, and after attempts to recuperate the old-fashioned way, he went had Tommy John surgery in July, which basically knocked him out for all of 2007 and 2008.

However, in 2009 he came back to go 17-4 and lead the NL with a 2.24 ERA in 192 innings. Then, in 2011, he pitched an epic complete game three-hit shutout against the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS that helped propel the Cardinals to another World Series victory.


3. Adam Wainwright (2011)


Adam Wainwright is another guy who might actually be better now than he was before Tommy John surgery. And he was damn good before.

In 2009 Wainwright went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA and finished third in Cy Young voting. In 2010 he went 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA and finished second. However, during spring training the next year he blew out his elbow, underwent surgery, and missed all of 2011.

By 2013, however, Wainwright was better than ever. He went 19-9 last year with a 2.94 ERA while leading the league with 241.2 innings pitched. And so far in 2014 he’s 6-2 with a 2.11 ERA—and yes, he’s leading the league in innings, too.


2. John Smoltz (2000)

2 john smoltz - pitchers who have had tommy john surgery

Smoltz was already a Hall of Famer when he blew out his elbow in 2000 at the age of 33. Then he rehabbed, came back as a closer, saved 144 games from 2002-2004, went back to starting at the age of 38, and three incredible years in which he pitched at least 205 innings without his ERA going over 3.49.

That’s insane.


1. Tommy John (1974)


Who else could take the top spot in the Tommy John Hall of Fame but the man for whom the surgery is named?

John had already pitched very well in 12 seasons for the Indians, White Sox, and Dodgers when he blew out his UCL in 1974. Since, at that point, his career would have been over if he did nothing, he let Dr. Frank Jobe try an experimental procedure on him, replacing the ligament in his elbow with a tendon taken from his forearm.

It worked. After rehabbing all of 1974 and 1975, Tommy John returned in 1976 at the age of 33, and in 1977 he finished second in Cy Young voting, winning 20 games and posting a 2.78 ERA for the Dodgers.

By the time he retired at the age of 46 in 1989, he was the oldest player in baseball and had pitched more years after his surgery than before it.