No pitcher’s elbow seems safe anymore. Earlier in spring training, Yu Darvish, the perennial Cy Young contender and ace of the Texas Rangers staff, had Tommy John surgery. A week later, promising Mets pitcher Zach Wheeler was under the knife. Those guys are part of a proud lineage of phenoms whose elbows couldn’t withstand the crazy forces of pitching a baseball every five days. In the past five years, 299 major and minor league pitchers have had Tommy John surgery.1According to data collected by sabermetrician Jon Roegele. The epidemic — or whatever you want to call it — isn’t over yet.But beneath the scary headlines and the relentless drumbeat of crisis, there’s a silver lining to this rash of pitcher injuries: Having a bum elbow sure beats having a bum shoulder. Despite all the Tommy John surgeries, we’re living in a golden era of pitcher health.It’s hard not to be anxious about a crisis when you look at data about just how many ulnar collateral ligaments are being repaired through Tommy John surgery. The number of surgeries in the past 10 years is 115 percent higher than it was the 10 years prior.That’s a huge spike, yes, but the intriguing thing is what’s happened as those elbows have flared up: Shoulders haven’t. Using data from Baseball Prospectus’s injury archive (maintained by Corey Dawkins), we can chart the escalating number of elbow surgeries over the past 35 years against the number of shoulder surgeries2This graph looks at all levels of baseball (major and minor leagues) from 1981 onward.: Right around 1998, the two paths diverge, and in recent years, shoulder surgeries are down.3I believe credit for noticing this trend goes to sabermetrician Jeff Zimmerman. After a peak in 2009, when more than 40 operations were performed, shoulder surgeries seem to be fading toward extinction, with only 12 in 2014. Some have attributed the decrease in shoulder injuries to improved shoulder exercises. This explanation is consistent with the fact that shoulder injuries have disappeared for position players, as well.The decreasing trend in shoulder problems matters because shoulder surgeries are more debilitating than the now-routine Tommy John. Whereas about 80 percent of major league pitchers in my data set4The recovery rate is in agreement with other estimates from experts such as Dr. Glenn Fleisig. returned from UCL reconstruction to pitch in the majors, only 67 percent came back from shoulder surgeries. (From here on out, I’m examining only the pitchers who were major leaguers at the time of their surgery.) Whether because of recency bias or some other factor, we tend to forget once-great throwers like Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, and Kerry Wood, all of whose careers were cut short because of shoulder ailments. Wood, in particular, is an instructive example. He came back from Tommy John early in his career only to be done in by a rotator cuff surgery several years later.There are, of course, pitchers who never make it back from Tommy John, and if you are a Rangers fan, or simply a connoisseur of great pitching (as I am), even a 20 percent risk of Darvish never returning seems drastically high. But not all pitchers are the same. Using logistic regression, I examined how the risk of failing to return after UCL reconstruction varies by the characteristics of the specific pitcher in question.Starting pitchers are more likely to make it back than relievers, for example. I found that 90 percent of starters returned from Tommy John surgery, versus 74 percent of relievers. In addition, the better a pitcher is before his stint on the DL (measured by his strikeouts and walks per nine innings), the more likely he is to recover.How healthy that pitcher is before his surgery also matters. The longer the injury history, the less likely he is to successfully recuperate. All parts of a pitcher’s arm are connected in a kinetic chain. Because the pitching motion is so stressful on an arm, a problem at one end of the chain can weaken another end of it. Take Joel Zumaya, the fire-breathing reliever for the 2006 Detroit Tigers who never made it back from Tommy John. Zumaya had a long injury history, including problems in his hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder. No one can say with certainty which part of his arm was the one that ruined his chances of being a major league pitcher. Darvish, on the other hand, is a relatively healthy starting pitcher with excellent strikeout and walk numbers. He should be counted as among the most likely to make it back to MLB.There’s a pessimism that follows any pitcher to the DL — that even if he does return, he will never attain his former abilities again. There’s some merit to that: While many pitchers return to their former levels of performance, some seem to lose a measure of their ability. Francisco Liriano never again matched the 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings he put up in his rookie season, which was followed by elbow surgery. But for every Liriano, there’s an Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals ace. He averaged 8.3 K/9 in the year before his surgery and posted an identical 8.3 K/9 the year after.When I looked more generally at the historical record of pitchers who had undergone Tommy John, I found that there was an evident decline in their performance. However, it was not nearly as bad as the one that followed shoulder surgeries. Shoulder problems reduce strikeouts and increase walks, both to greater degrees than similarly severe problems to a pitcher’s elbow:Tommy John recipients barely saw their strikeouts drop at all. On average, strikeouts declined by 0.06 K/9 following Tommy John surgery. Contrast that with the sufferers of shoulder surgery, who saw a substantial (and much greater) average drop in K/9 of 0.37. That’s a 5 percent decrease for those pitchers.There was a 0.18 increase in walks per nine innings (BB/9) for the Tommy John recipients, but a greater 0.33 increase in BB/9 for the shoulder surgery recipients.There’s one other noticeable effect of these surgeries: Pitchers pitch less when they come back. Both types of pitcher injuries seem to lead to a decrease in innings pitched in the three years after the surgery relative to the years before. But, again, shoulder surgeries appear to be worse than elbow surgeries.Pitchers who underwent UCL reconstruction saw their number of innings pitched decline by an average of about 53 innings in the three years following their return — no small margin. In contrast, pitchers who underwent shoulder surgery experienced a much greater decrease, notching more than 134 fewer innings.All this means that there are tons of players getting Tommy John surgery, but that’s not the worst fate for a pitcher these days. Darvish is very likely to return, likely to strike out nearly as many guys per game as he once did, but likely to do it in fewer innings. Rangers fans, you can stop worrying about Darvish’s elbow. Just keep praying his shoulder holds up.
The 2018 MLB season may not even be a month old, but it’s never too early to start overanalyzing how teams have looked so far. That’s especially true this season, when many of the clubs slated to be favorites going into the year have stumbled a bit coming out of the gate. Most of these teams will probably be fine in the end — seriously, it is still very early to know anything about how the season will play out — but just the same, it’s worth checking on which aspects of their struggles should disappear in due time and which might be cause for real anxiety.Washington Nationals (10-12)What’s gone wrong: For a team supposedly built around pitching, Washington currently ranks fifth-to-last in the National League in adjusted ERA — though it hasn’t been the fault of the Max Scherzer-led starting rotation. No, the blame rests with a bullpen that collectively boasts a 5.78 ERA and has performed even worse in clutch situations. (Witness the Nats’ epic meltdown against the Mets last Wednesday.) Some bad early-season defense isn’t helping either, and despite Bryce Harper’s raw feats of power, the offense isn’t hitting enough to make up for the 4.6 runs Washington is allowing per game.Cause for concern? Maybe. The Nats’ bullpen and defense were nothing special last season, either — they ranked 19th and 17th, respectively, in wins above replacement.1Averaging together the versions of WAR found at Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. Closer Sean Doolittle has been fine so far, however, and setup men Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler are not as bad as they’ve looked in the early going. This lineup should get on track, too, when Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton return from injury — or when Michael Taylor and Ryan Zimmerman break out of their April slumps. (We’ve seen Zimmerman hit poorly before, but he rebounded last season and has been hitting the ball hard in 2018, despite his bad results so far.)New York Yankees (11-9)What’s gone wrong: For all their immense hype going into the season, the Yankees have been pretty “meh” starting out, scoring only 13 more runs than they’ve allowed (113 vs. 100). Prized new left fielder Giancarlo Stanton is striking out constantly, particularly in front of the home fans at Yankee Stadium, while the team’s pitching has been average at best. They’re wasting a great start to the season by shortstop Didi Gregorius; he’s looked like an MVP over the past three weeks, but the Yankees barely have a .500 record to show for it.Cause for concern? Probably not. Although Stanton is pressing at the plate like some batters have been known to do in the pressure-packed New York media market, swinging at more pitches overall and whiffing on fastballs over the plate especially, he’s simply too good a hitter to not adjust eventually. (The ball he smoked at home on Friday might be a sign of things to come.) Likewise, scuffling starters Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray should be better than the 7.22 ERA they’ve combined for so far, and a bullpen that ranked second in MLB in WAR last year is due for an improvement. Regression to the mean can work both ways, of course — Gregorius probably hasn’t fully made the leap to MVP level, for instance — but the Yankees should also benefit from better luck going forward: According to BaseRuns, which smooths out differences in the timing of offensive and defensive events, New York has been baseball’s fifth-best team so far, despite its record.Los Angeles Dodgers (10-10)What’s gone wrong: For one thing, Los Angeles’s offense is down this year, dropping from second in the NL last year to sixth in 2018, according to adjusted on-base plus slugging percentage. The Dodgers miss the production of third baseman Justin Turner, who fractured his wrist in spring training and has missed the entire season, and many of their other top hitters (Chris Taylor, Corey Seager, Yasiel Puig, the now-injured Logan Forsythe, etc.) are off to subpar starts. But an even bigger problem has been L.A.’s bullpen, which ranks 22nd in WAR a year after finishing fifth. Closer Kenley Jansen, usually the best reliever on the planet, sports a 6.23 ERA, and he’s already blown twice as many saves this year as he did all of last season.2Granted, Jansen only blew one save last season. But it was in 42 chances! This year, he’s blown two in five tries.Cause for concern? Sort of. The Dodgers’ hitting issues should sort themselves out eventually — they’re still projected by FanGraphs to score the fourth-most runs per game in the NL over the entire season, and they ought to be even better than that once Turner comes back in May. The bullpen question may be longer-lasting, however, given Jansen’s struggles. Although he brushed off early concerns about his performance (and he recorded a pair of scoreless innings over the weekend), there were questions about Jansen’s velocity in the spring, which have only amplified a month into the season. According to BrooksBaseball.com, Jansen’s sinker is averaging only 93.6 mph this April, compared with 95.7 mph last April and 94.9 two Aprils ago. We know that unexplained changes in velocity may indicate the kind of injury or mechanical problem that leads to cold streaks or prolonged absences, and we also know how important Jansen was to the Dodgers’ bullpen last year (he accounted for 48 percent of their relief WAR by himself). If Jansen suffers a down season, it would seriously affect L.A.’s chances of returning to the World Series.Chicago Cubs (10-9)What’s gone wrong: The Cubs are scoring plenty and they’ve already enjoyed a few memorable moments in 2018 so far, including this ridiculous eighth-inning comeback against the Braves the Saturday before last. But their starting pitching and defense — i.e., the twin cornerstones of Chicago’s 2016 World Series run — have been surprisingly mediocre thus far. Although veteran lefty Jon Lester has basically been his usual solid self, none of the other rotation members have lived up to their previous track records, from club mainstay Kyle Hendricks to newcomers Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood and second-year Cub Jose Quintana. And if Cub pitchers used to generate easily fieldable balls in play, that’s no longer the case: The team is below average in defensive efficiency and ordinary in various other fielding metrics. (When even Jason Heyward is showing up as a negative in the field, your defense has problems.)Cause for concern? Defensively, not really. Heyward may have lost a step in the field — which is worth keeping an eye on — but Chicago started slow on defense last season, too. They eventually managed to finish near the top of the advanced-metric leaderboards when all was said and done. But there might be real cause for concern in the subpar performance of the Cubs’ rotation, even after taking defense out of the equation. Chicago’s starters rank seventh-worst in fielding-independent pitching so far this season, continuing a three-year slide from fourth-best in 2016 to 10th-best last year, and now 24th-best in 2018. The optimist’s case is that this group is too talented to keep pitching so poorly — and walking so many batters, specifically — but the Cubs will have a hard time fending off the Cardinals and Brewers in the NL Central (much less reclaiming their superteam status) if they don’t start getting a lot more out of their rotation soon.
WILMINGTON, MA — Below are some of the newest job openings in Wilmington:Full-Time Sales Associate at Verizon WirelessFull-Time Safety Manager at Crystal WarehouseFull-Time Customer Service & Inside Sales Representative at Scully Signal CompanyPart-Time Summer Help Warehouse Associate at NAPA Auto PartsFull-Time Skilled Laborer at Cam’s Demolition & DisposalFull-Time/Part-Time Crew Members & Shift Leaders at Dunkin’ DonutsFull-Time Cook For Senior Dining at Glendale Senior DiningFull-Time Delivery Drivers at FedExFull-Time Electro-Mechanical Maintenance Technician at Basuch HealthFull-Time Supervisor of Quality & Documentation Control at Spectra Medical Devices(NOTE: Wilmington businesses — Feel free to send me your job postings at email@example.com.)Like Wilmington Apple on Facebook. Follow Wilmington Apple on Twitter. Follow Wilmington Apple on Instagram. Subscribe to Wilmington Apple’s daily email newsletter HERE. Got a comment, question, photo, press release, or news tip? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading… RelatedNOW HIRING: 60 New Job Openings In Wilmington (Week of May 26, 2019)In “Business”NOW HIRING: 10 Job Openings In WilmingtonIn “Business”NOW HIRING: 10 New Job Openings In WilmingtonIn “Business”