MLB Notebook: Elbow injuries plague pitchers, Stephen Strasburg retires, and more

Photo credit:Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Holden
3 months ago
Two more star pitchers are hitting the Injured List and will miss significant time with arm injuries. Guardians ace Shane Bieber will undergo Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the UCL in his elbow and will now miss the rest of the 2024 season.
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Braves ace Spencer Strider will hit the 15-day Injured List after finding damage to his UCL in his right elbow. It is unclear how long Strider will be out, but he will have an evaluation with a surgeon this week
Houston Astros Opening Day starter, Framber Valdez, meanwhile, was scratched from his start Monday night with soreness on the top of his elbow.
Jonathan Loáisiga will also require Tommy John this past weekend, and Eury Perez the week before, adding to an already long list of arm injuries to pitchers over the last few years. There are currently 33 pitchers on the Injured List in the MLB who have needed Tommy John surgery this year. The list also includes the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect OF Jasson Dominguez, the only position player on the list. The 2024 is only down 22 injuries from the end of the 2023 season, which finished with 56, two of which being from outfielders Dominguez, and Riley Greene
The number of Tommy John surgeries over the past decade has steadily increased. In 2016, 21 players missed time from the surgery, the following year, only 13 players suffered with the operation. But suddenly in 2018, 24 players, in 2019: 27 players, 2020: 29 players, and so on. 
Many have blamed the introduction of the pitch clock for the rash of injuries; less time to recover between pitches while throwing full-tilt for 6.0+ plus innings at 95 mph every five days, it makes sense. To go along with the introduction of the rule, the MLB adjusted the clock even more, before most pitchers could fully adjust to their new time limit. The pitch clock will now start two seconds earlier than the year before, reducing the time from 20 in 2023 to 18 in 2024, a move that Tony Clark and the MLBPA raised concerns about from the start. 
Despite unanimous player opposition and significant concerns regarding health and safety, the commissioner’s office reduced the length of the pitch clock last December, just one season removed from imposing the most significant rule change in decades.”
While the argument is very valid and is a concern throughout MLB pitching staffs, there has been no conclusive evidence that the pitch clock has any direct correlation with the rise in Tommy John operations. The MLB employed Johns Hopkins University to conduct a study to find any link between the rule and arm injuries and found there was no connection between the two… yet
The main issue with these results is the lack of long-term evidence. The rule was only introduced in 2023 and is entering the second season of Major League use. Showing season-to-season data or damage would be impossible at this time. However, in my very incredible medically professional opinion, it must have an impact; we just are not sure what that impact is yet. 
But a new theory, and an evolutionary one at that, has arisen recently: the evolution of arm angles of the new-age pitcher. Pitching instructor Chris O’Leary shared a picture on Twitter of Spencer Strider’s arm slot when delivering a pitch compared to Nolan Ryan’s delivery. Strider’s pitching arm is a complete 90-degree flatter from Ryan’s at the exact same position of their pitch. Strider’s hand is ahead of him and in front of his elbow, forcing him to whip his arm back and through to finish his pitch on time, when Ryan already has his arm behind his arm, ready to deliver the pitch to the batter. That extra inertia and flex on the elbow is detrimental to the muscles and ligaments, or the ulnar collateral ligament. 
This concept is also one Justin Verlander agrees with as well. 
I think the biggest thing is that the style of pitching has changed so much. Everyone is throwing the ball as hard as they possibly can and spinning the ball as hard as they possibly can.” 
If that is the case, that is far from a simple fix. Asking a pitcher, especially a pro pitcher, to change the way they wind up into their delivery is nearly an impossible task. A problem even Verlander can recognize. 
It’s a double-edged sword. How can you tell somebody to go out there and not do that when they’re capable of throwing 100?.”
There are plenty of reasons this epidemic has hit baseball pitchers; the ball changing in 2016, the banning of sticky substances, a dog barking in right field, tons of reasons. But, the unfortunate nature of it all is that we probably won’t know even a modicum of an indication until we have sufficient evidence from the pitch clock, which won’t be for a longer time than we would want and pitchers would deserve. 
Stephen Strasburg calls it a career
World Series Champion, MVP, and three-time All-Star, Stephen Strasburg has retired from professional baseball. 
The massive right-hander called it a career on Sunday after 13 seasons in the MLB accumulating 113 wins throughout his career, including six Postseason victories and a 2019 title. Strasburg received Cy Young Award votes three times in his career in 2014, 2017, and 2019, and won the Silver Slugger for NL pitchers in 2012. 
I realized after repeated attempts to return to pitching, injuries no longer allow me to perform at a Major League level.”
Unfortunately, Strasburg hasn’t pitched in an MLB game since June 9th, 2022. In 2023, Stephen had to undergo surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome, a disorder that compresses the nerves, arteries, and veins. Strasburg had announced he had suffered severe nerve damage at the time and underwent the operation that removed a rib and two muscles in his neck
Although I will always wish there were more games to be pitched, I find comfort knowing I left it all out there for the only team I’ve known.”
However, the retirement doesn’t come without a little quarrel. See, Stephen Strasburg is still under contract with the Nationals until 2027, a seven-year, $245 million deal that was signed in 2019. The Nationals reportedly approached Strasburg to retire last season, a process that got so close that they had a September press conference planned for the event. Those plans fell apart when the Nats proposed Strasburg altar his current contract, which is fully guaranteed to the pitcher. There are still three years left on the deal where Strasburg is owed $35 million per year, plus money he had deferred until 2029, totalling $80 million, plus incentives.
The two sides have come to an agreement on a settlement for the rest of his contract leading to the announcement this weekend. And now with Strasburg done, one more of the elite arms from the last generation leaves the game, and one of the best ones at that. 
Quick Notes:
  • Luis Robert Jr. is likely to miss a lengthy amount of time after suffering a hip injury. Robert will hit the 10-day Injured List with a Grade 2 hip flexor strain and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.
  • Ronel Blanco sets an impressive MLB record with another impressive outing against the Rangers. With 17 more outs in his second outing of the season, Blanco set the expansion era record for the most consecutive outs by a pitcher to begin a season. Adolis Garcia broke the no-hit bid in the sixth inning on Sunday. 
  • Spencer Steer was named player of the week along with Blanco. Steer swung a hot bat for the Reds this week slashing a .409 average smacking three homers and bringing home nine RBIs.
  • The Marlins finally win their first game of the season against the Cards. After one of the worst starts in recent memory, the Marlins finally get a win after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 10-3 on Sunday. A big day from their top bats including Luis Arraez going 4-5 and scoring three times, plus a Jazz Chisholm three-run shot led the M’s to their first victory of the year, finally improving to 1-9.  


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