As the snow and cold of winter turns into, well, more snow and cold... the stories of the Hot Stove season begin to fall by the wayside and new stories will eagerly take their place. It's a time to talk about who will fill out the rotation, who will win the left field job, and just how will that bullpen battle shake out. There will be one, however, who won't be able to participate in all the exercises and pepper drills. This man is Stephen Strasburg, our very own #1 pitcher, out for the year* while rehabbing Tommy John Surgery.
*Maybe back in September
Today I don't want to talk about any of those great position battles or whether our defense will actually save us runs. Not today. Today I want to talk about 2012, by talking about the last three years. The hope that resides in recovery. No longer a proverbial death sentence, the recovery from Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) surgery has become common-place and almost routine; though not guaranteed. As you may have read at some point, 9 of this past year's All-Star pitcher representatives were survivors of Tommy John Surgery. With that spirit in mind, I want to take a look at some of those survivors, in the hopes that one day very soon Strasburg can replicate their success.
It's been said that your first 1.5-2 years after the surgery is when you finally return to your former self, so where applicable, I am going to look at those 2nd year stats.
First up we have Cardinals Co-Ace, Chris Carpenter. After having several stellar years with St. Louis, the Cardinals were looking forward to the ace of their staff leading them into another successful season. But on the day one of the 2007 season, Carpenter went down with elbow soreness. Several months passed before he had surgery in late July of the same year. He returned to the team almost exactly a year after his surgery, and put up good numbers in just 4 appearances for the rest of the year. Carpenter came out of the gate in '09 with a bang. Starting the season with a 7IP 1H 0R performance against the Pirates, he would not look back from there. In his 2nd year after Tommy John Surgery (2009) Carpenter finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting after going 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.
Next we have a perennial thorn in the Nats' side, Tim Hudson. Throughout his career Hudson has been a dominant pitcher, winning at least 10 games every single season he has been in the majors (save the '09 recovery season). On August 2nd of 2008 the Braves announced that Hudson would be visiting Dr. James Andrews for UCL surgery. He finished the minor league rehab, reaching the big leagues about 13 months after the surgery, joining the Braves on September 1st, 2009. For the rest of the '09 season Hudson was able to get 7 starts, winning 2 starts and posting a sub-4 ERA. Flash forward to 2010, his 2nd year after Tommy John Surgery, Tim Hudson put up outstanding numbers; 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.
Third up on our list is one of the best bullpen closers in baseball, though he won't be closing anytime soon as he is now blocked by another Tommy John survivor. That man is Rafael Soriano. Soriano came up in the Mariners organization after toiling away in the minors after coming to the states from the Dominican Republic. His breakout season was back in 2003 with those same Mariners, where he pitched in 40 games with a miniscule 1.53 ERA. Hopes were high for the ballclub after such a great performance, but after just 6 games in '04 it became evident that there was a problem. Dr. Andrews visit. Tommy John Surgery on August 17th, 2004. He played his first MLB game on September 10th, 2005 after 13 months of recovery. His 2nd year after surgery numbers: 53 games. 60 IP. 2.25 ERA. 1.08 WHIP. 65 K.
One final case to increase the amount of hope present in NatsTown. A case that also comes in the form of another Nats nemesis; Josh Johnson. As a rookie in 2006, Johnson put up stellar numbers (12-7, 3.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) on his way to finishing 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting. The Marlins seemed to be set for years with a rotation of Johnson, Scott Olsen, Anibal Sanchez, and Ricky Nolasco, until injuries plagued the fish. All those issues were summed up by a terrible 2007 campaign by Johnson that ended on August 7th with Tommy John Surgery. After what seemed to be an impossibly quick recovery, Josh Johnson returned to the Major Leagues in 11 months (July 10, 2008). And one year after his recovery he was able to post a 7-1 record with a 3.61 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. His 2009 campaign proved to be even better, 15-5 record with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Fast forward to 2010 and Josh Johnson is one of the top pitchers in all of the National League, finishing 5th in the Cy Young voting while leading the League in ERA and ERA+.
Now, although these are only a few cases of success, if you did a little research you would find at least 30 more cases of pitchers returning to dominant form post-Tommy John surgery. It should be noted that for every Mariano Rivera and John Smoltz (both survivors), there are 5 Scott Williamson's and Phil Humber's. I have faith that the Nationals training staff will be diligent in monitoring Strasburg's progress, observing every single pitch he makes, so that we don't have another Mark Prior situation on our hands.
Upon further review, instead of waiting patiently for Strasburg's return in 2012, lets all eagerly wait to see if Jordan Zimmermann can replicate his pre-surgery performance to become one of these success stories, in this his 2nd year after Tommy John surgery...