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
Elbow (non TJS): 16%
Arm (other): 4%
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
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.