Players throw way too hard way too young
Tommy John surgery, in which an elbow ligament is replaced, is practically a rite of passage for young pitchers these days. For example, Yankee prospect James Kaprelian found out in 2017 that he needs it. Pitching coach Rick Peterson blames the way pitchers throw so hard and so much at such an early age in recent years.
And another drawback of travel teams is younger players are pitching in many more games, and at an earlier age, than in the past. The Washington Post writes that “to rise in rankings and win tournaments, some teams, especially in warm climates, play nearly year-round, competing in as many as 120 games per year, more than most minor league players.”
Dr. James Andrews, the most famous surgeon doing this procedure, told USA Today that the biggest-growing number of pitchers coming to him for the surgery are high school kids. He said, “They outnumber the professionals. There was a tenfold increase in Tommy John at the high school/youth level in my practice since 2000. I’m doing far more of these procedures than I want to.”
In addition, the physician readily admits that the procedure is not as successful on younger pitchers, “There’s a higher failure rate than older pitchers because they’re so young and just don’t know how to get through the surgery,” he shared. Getting surgery at any age can be fraught with peril. A teenager needing Tommy John surgery is pretty outrageous.