SEATTLE -- The amount of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery has become almost an epidemic, one that continues to rattle the brains of doctors, coaches and front office members throughout the industry. According to Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, 44 professional pitchers have or will undergo the invasive procedure so far this year, with Angels reliever Sean Burnett among the latest.
Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher has two theories on why ulnar collateral ligaments are tearing so much more often these days.
He's one of many who believes it's bad for kids to play only baseball year-round, which often results in them putting too much stress on arms that have not yet matured. And just as importantly, Butcher says too many professional pitchers are throwing from the opposite side of the rubber (meaning, a right-hander throwing from the first-base side and a left-hander throwing from the third-base side).
Butcher has found that more than 30 of the pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery this year fit that description.
"Some guys do it because they feel like they'll be in the strike zone more, they'll have better command that way -- there's all sorts of different philosophies about it," Butcher said. "But for me, if you're on the opposite side of your throwing arm on the rubber, you are constantly pronating your arm at a higher rate than if you are on the other side. There's no leverage behind the baseball.
"There's guys who have been very successful doing it, who have maintained their health. But I think for the most part, the guys that are on their throwing-arm side of the rubber are less prone to injury because there's less stress on the arm."
Garrett Richards is among the Angels pitchers who throw from the opposite side of the rubber, but Butcher said he isn't overthrowing or pronating because Richards' delivery has him coming way across his body.
"You try not to think about it," Richards, 26, said of so many pitchers being subject to a torn UCL. "As a player, you can't think about the possibility of getting injured. You play the game as hard as you can until it happens and then you move on from there."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less