Tommy John surgery turns 35 years old

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Pete Grathoff of the Kansas City Star wrote a great article celebrating the 35th anniversary of Tommy John surgery, including how the whole thing got started:

When John’s left elbow gave out 35 years ago, he asked orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe to help salvage his career. Jobe took on the challenge, but it was no easy task. “I was nervous because we didn’t know what we were doing,” Jobe recalled in a phone interview.



Of course, Jobe was basically inventing the surgery, so he couldn’t guarantee that it would be successful. “John talked it over with his wife and his father,” Jobe said, “and came back and said, ‘Let’s do it.'” He said, ‘This is what I want to do because I don’t want to quit pitching. I can’t earn this much money in Terre Haute, Ind.'”

Three decades later Tommy John surgery has become commonplace, with an average of 2-3 pitchers on every team having undergone the procedure, and no one is surprised when a pitcher comes back stronger than ever. However, back then no one knew what to expect and it was considered a mini-miracle that following the surgery John pitched another 13 seasons in the majors and won another 164 games while three times finishing among the top five in Cy Young balloting.
Now the list of pitchers who’ve had the surgery looks like an All-Star team (or more accurarely several All-Star teams), with Chris Carpenter providing the most recent success story following his 2008 surgery. Of course, there are also plenty of unsuccessful examples, including most recently Francisco Liriano going from the league’s best pitcher as a rookie in 2006 to a mop-up man two years after going under the knife.
In terms of overall impact Tommy John surgery is arguably one of the most important discoveries in the history of sports, and Grathoff does a nice job describing the actual surgery, laying out the rehabilitation timetable, talking to pitchers who’ve had the operation, and examining the growing number of teenagers having the procedure done. Definitely worth a read.

A scout thinks the Astros strike out too much. The Astros have the lowest strikeout total in baseball.

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Great moments in scouting. MLB.com’s Richard Justice spoke to an unnamed scout about the Astros, currently holding the American League’s best record at 76-47. The scout said that the Astros strike out too much and it will catch up with them. Justice pointed out that the Astros have the lowest strikeout total in baseball. The scout responded, “I don’t believe that.”

Justice, of course, is correct. The average major league team has struck out 1,006 times entering Sunday’s action. The Astros have by far the lowest total at 827, followed by the Indians at 881 and the Pirates at 882.

This scout doesn’t represent all scouts, but this is one of the major problems that advocates of statistics were trying to highlight before Sabermetrics became popular a decade ago. It’s a pattern. Person believes thing. Person either cherry-picks evidence to defend belief or is shown evidence that belief is not factually true and ignores it. Person refuses to change belief, using one of many excuses.

The other problem this highlights is the fallacy of “the eye test,” which is shorthand for treating a scout’s observations as sacrosanct due to his or her experience and knowledge of the game. In this case, the scout ignored easily accessed information, went with his gut, and turned out to be completely wrong. Furthermore, if “the eye test” were legit, the scout would’ve known that, for example, Yulieski Gurriel and Jose Altuve hardly ever strike out (11.1 and 12.4 percent strikeout rates, respectively). In fact, no one on the Astros’ roster (min. 230 PA) has a strikeout rate above 21 percent; the league average is 21.5 percent.

This isn’t to impugn the practice of scouting as a whole. There are a lot of things scouts can tell you about a player that data cannot and that has value. But for easily-researched claims like “the Astros strike out too much,” there’s no reason to trust a scout over the stats.

Mets acquire Jacob Rhame from Dodgers

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The Mets acquired right-handed reliever Jacob Rhame from the Dodgers, the team announced on Sunday. Rhame is the player to be named later in the trade that sent outfielder Curtis Granderson to Los Angeles on Friday night. He’s expected to report to the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.

Rhame, 24, pitched through his second Triple-A campaign with the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017, collecting two saves in 41 appearances and logging a 4.31 ERA, 1.9 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 48 innings. While his ERA saw a sharp spike from its modest 3.29 mark in 2016 (perhaps thanks in part to a midseason DL stint due to an undisclosed injury), he’s controlling the ball better than he has in several years and has drawn some attention with a fastball that occasionally touches 98 MPH on the radar gun.

The Mets’ bullpen hasn’t been at its finest over the last few weeks, ranking 16th among its major league competitors with a collective 4.50 ERA and 2.4 fWAR, but likely isn’t looking to add an extreme fly ball pitcher to its staff just yet. Until he gets his big league break, Rhame will beef up Triple-A Vegas’ relief corps alongside fellow right-handers Yaisel Sierra, Joe Broussard and Josh Ravin.