Verducci’s solution to the Tommy John scourge? Lower the mound.

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Almost all of us who talk about Tommy John surgery are not doctors and are not versed in biomechanics. So that should give you pretty fair warning that, for the most part, we’re just spittin’ into the wind when it comes to the “what should be done?” part of this conversation.

Personally I’ll defer to Dr. Andrews and people like him and take them for their word that most of the ligament damage in young pitchers happens well before they’ve hit the big leagues and likely happened well before they made it to pro ball. The development of kids’ muscles are outpacing the development of their ligaments, Andrews says, allowing them to put more stress on a UCL than it was designed to handle. That plus kids simply being overworked and pitching year-round in multiple leagues means that the TJ cake is already baked by the time we know who these dudes are.

Tom Verducci is in lock step with Andrews with all of that, so I’ll go along with his ideas on the topic to a certain degree. Against that backdrop he suggests doing something to limit the amount of strain on those still-developing UCLs: lower the mound:

What can be done? It’s time for Major League Baseball to lower the mound — and for the entire amateur market to follow its lead. When I took part in an MLB Network roundtable discussion last week on the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries, what struck me as most profound was the statement of fact by both Mets team physician Dr. David Altchek and biomechanics expert and former pitcher Tom House that the greater the slope of the mound the greater the forces that are applied to the arm. Reduce the height of the mound and you reduce the forces upon the arm.

Of course, given that he and Dr. Andrews both say that the problem really occurs before the guys get to the bigs, I don’t know that lowering the mound at the MLB level would do much to solve the problem and the byproducts of that — most likely dramatically increased offense — will end up putting the same sort of pressure to develop pitching that we saw in the 1990s and 2000s, the fruit of which is being harvested today. That in turn would place even more of a premium on hard-throwers and would incentivize kids and their parents to churn out even more impressive pitching phenoms, no matter the cost. So many unintended consequences. Like, say, kids throwing even gnarlier pitches their arms aren’t ready for. Leagues not really lowering the mounds because, hey, who’s gonna measure them?

I don’t know that you can crack that nut without Major League Baseball actually becoming a hands-on authority over youth baseball to one degree or another. The incentives are just too detached right now to ensure change. Youth coaches and parents are aimed at winning now and/or having their kids get drafted and paid at 18-21, and they don’t give much of a toss to what happens at 25. MLB has little if any interest in ensuring the well-being of their own minor leaguers, so how in the hell do we expect them to take any kind of ownership or exert any kind of authority over youth baseball?

I don’t think there are any solutions here. At least those that MLB can just impose via a rules change. This is a medical and a societal issue and those sorts of things aren’t amenable to quick fixes.

Casey Kelly signs with the LG Twins in Korea

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We wrote a lot about Casey Kelly on this site circa 2010-12.

It was understandable. Kelly was a big-time draftee for the Red Sox and famously split time as a shortstop and a pitcher in the minors, with some people even wondering if he could do it full time. The Sox put the kibosh on that pretty quickly, as he became the top overall prospect in the Boston organization as a pitcher. He then made news when he was sent to San Diego — along with Anthony Rizzo — in the famous Adrian Gonzalez trade in December 2010.

He made his big league debut for the Padres in late August of 2012, holding a pretty darn good Atlanta Braves team scoreless for six innings, striking out four.  He would pitch in five more games in the season’s final month to not very good results but missed all of 2013 and most of 2014 thanks to Tommy John surgery.

He wouldn’t make it back to the bigs until 2015 — pitching only three games after being converted to a reliever — before the Padres cut him loose, trading him to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt who, like a younger Kelly, the Padres thought could be a two-way player, catching and relieving. That didn’t work for him either, but I digress.

Kelly made a career-high ten appearances for a bad Braves team in 2016, was let go following the season and was out of the majors again in 2017 after the Cubs released him a couple of months after he failed to make the team out of spring training. He resurfaced with the Giants this past season for seven appearances. The Giants cut him loose last month.

Now Kelly’s journey takes him across the ocean. He announced on Instagram last night that he’s signed with the LG Twins in the Korean Baseball Organization. He seems pretty happy and eager about it in his little video there. I don’t blame him, as he’ll make $1 million for them, as opposed to staying here and almost certainly winding up in a Triple-A rotation making $60K or whatever it is veteran minor leaguers make.

This was probably way too many words to devote to a journeyman heading to play in Korea, but we so often forget top prospects once they fail to meet expectations. We also tend to forget all of the Tommy John casualties, focusing instead on the Tommy John successes. As such, I wanted to think a bit about Casey Kelly. I hope things work out well for him in the KBO and a baseball player who once seemed so promising can, after a delay, find success of his own.