By In Stuff

The Reyes Road Ahead

The Tommy John Challenge

Alex Reyes is a fantastic young pitcher … and an amazing story. He actually grew up in New Jersey; he pitched at Elizabeth High School. He was not a prospect. His fastball did not approach 90 mph. And so in an effort to be noticed by scouts, he moved to the Dominican Republic when he was 16, lived with his grandparents.

And at that exact moment, he hit a growth spurt — grew four or five inches, gained 30 of 40 pounds, and his fastball leaped into the low 90s, then the mid-90s, then the high 90s.

The Cardinals managed to sign him off of what they saw at a workout.

He almost immediately became one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.

You might have seen Reyes last year, dominating in his short period in the Major Leagues. He showed enough to be a leading Rookie of the Year candidate this year. At age 22, his future seemed unlimited.

And, as you know, Wednesday he found out that he will need Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of the year and, well, however much longer it takes to recover.

My first reaction to this was: “Oh, that’s sad, but he’s young, he will be fine.” This is how I — and most people I know — have come to think of Tommy John surgery. It is serious, of course, but there’s a feeling that pitchers will come back from it stronger than ever.

And then … I began looking at the recent history of pitchers who had Tommy John surgery. And I found something peculiar: With only a handful of exceptions, pitchers DO NOT come back from it stronger than ever. Many do not come back from it at all. And if you look at the best starting pitchers in the game — Kershaw, Scherzer, Kluber, King Felix, Bumgarner, Arrieta, Lester, Verlander, Greinke, etc. — they almost all have one thing in common.


So, over at MLB, I wrote a little bit about Tommy John surgery and the rough but not insurmountable road ahead for Alex Reyes.


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6 Responses to The Reyes Road Ahead

  1. Ryan says:

    Read Jeff Passan’s book “The Arm” – it’s about Tommy John surgery.

  2. Noah says:

    R.A. Dickey has a bit of an unfair advantage to being a part of the good-to-great starters to avoid TJS list: he doesn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament. Tough to replace something that was never there in the first place.

    Always a great read Joe- love every word you write

  3. steve says:

    Thanks, Joe. I had the idea T J surgery somehow made you a better pitcher – guaranteed, like legal, permanent steroids. Who knew? That is one of the things I like about your writing – all sorts of new information and alternate ways of looking at baseball.

  4. David says:

    Honest question: is this ratio of success any different from the one you’d expect based on all 20-22 year old phenoms? Because I remember Mark Prior and Doc Golden and Dontrelle Willis and a while bunch of others who never had TJ and flamed out, anyway. I guess I’m just not convinced that the sample size here is big enough, or that these ratios are even any different than you’d expect given a “control” group of pitchers who never had the surgery. Young pitchers often have mediocre careers, even if they loin can’t-miss.

    • moviegoer74 says:

      It’s a little funny to talk about Dwight Gooden as having flamed out, since he did win nearly 200 games in the bigs over a 15+ year career. But of course we do think of him that way because he did not become a Hall of Famer. And at the conclusion of his Age 23 season in 1988, he seemed as much of a lock to eventually be a Hall of Famer as it is possible to seem at that age. Through 1988 (5 seasons):

      91-35, 2.62 ERA (2.46 FIP); 134 ERA+, 1067 Ks in 1172 IPs, 1.102 WHIP.

      Then he hurt his shoulder in 1989 and was essentially a league average (or worse) pitcher for the rest of his career.

      But in any case, he does not belong in the same category as Mark Prior, who only threw a total of 657 innings in the bigs.

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