Pirates’ Jameson Taillon looks to beat odds again after surgery
From Tommy John to Jameson Taillon, 466 MLB players have underwent ulnar collateral ligament surgery, some of them two or more times.
Commonly called Tommy John surgery, it is named after the pitcher who had the first one performed on him by Dr. Frank Jobe on Sept. 25, 1974.
John, it should be noted, pitched through 1989 and won 164 games after surgery.
It’s become such a common procedure that 86.7% of regular-season games in 2017 included at least one pitcher who had the surgery, according to fangraphs.com. A total of 62 players, most of them pitchers, had it this year, including four who were in high school.
Six pitchers who started this season in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system have had Tommy John surgery in the past five years. Taillon, the team’s No. 1 draft choice (second overall) in 2010, had it for a second time Tuesday in New York and won’t pitch again until 2021.
This is a pretty heartfelt thing left on Jameson Taillon’s Instagram page from former Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole. pic.twitter.com/KQuKK31e11
— Colin Dunlap (@colin_dunlap) August 15, 2019
The Boston Red Sox’s Nathan Eovaldi had it as a 17-year-old high school pitcher in 2007. Nine years later, he had another. Last October, Eovaldi won two games and compiled a 1.61 ERA for the Red Sox in the postseason. Yes, he has been on the 60-day injured list this season, but he was the winning pitcher in relief for the Red Sox on Wednesday night in Cleveland.
There is some speculation that Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax, who retired after the 1966 season at the age of 30 because of arm woes, could have pitched five or more seasons if he had Tommy John surgery.
The procedure is not simple, and recovery involves a long process of rest and rehabilitation.
Because of repeated stress, often rooted in throwing baseballs at high speeds, the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), which ties the humerus bone in the upper arm to the ulna bone in the lower arm, can tear.
During surgery, a tendon is taken from another part of the body — or, from a cadaver — to stabilize the UCL. Holes are drilled in the bones to attach the tendon.
After Taillon had his first Tommy John surgery April 9, 2014, he missed two seasons. He returned in June 2016 and threw six no-hit innings at the New York Mets.
But Taillon, 27, has made only 82 starts in four big-league seasons (2016-19) and has pitched only two full seasons in the majors (2017-18) since high school. He has been beset by misfortune but has recovered from Tommy John, sports hernia and testicular cancer surgeries. Now, he won’t pitch again until 2021 — 11 years after he was drafted — because of a second Tommy John and flexor tendon repair performed at the same time Tuesday by Dr. David Altchek.
In a study conducted in 2015 by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, pitchers who had a second Tommy John experienced a decline in performance and shortened careers.
Analyzing data from 33 pitchers, the study showed 65 percent returned to MLB, but they lasted on average three years or fewer at that level. Innings pitched dropped almost in half, walks jumped from 4.02 to 4.79 per nine innings and victories and defeats were cut in half.
Taillon is one of 108 pitchers to have two or more Tommy John procedures, The Athletic reported, using data from Hardball Times. Sean Burnett, the Pirates’ first-round draft choice in 2000, had it twice 10 years apart and only pitched in 10 games after his second in 2014, The Athletic reported.
Daniel Hudson, another former Pirate, had it twice and has appeared in 53 games this season — 52 in relief — for the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals. He’s 6-3 with a 2.80 ERA.
Of the six players in the Pirates system who have had Tommy John, only Clay Holmes is pitching for the big-league club. Holmes had surgery in 2014 and pitched full seasons in Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis in 2016 and 2017. He’s in the Pirates bullpen.
Nick Burdi had Tommy John in 2017 and was making a comeback this season when he left a game April 22 after crumpling to the ground in pain. He was diagnosed with nerve pain, had surgery June 25 and is expected to participate in spring training next year.
Nick Kingham had Tommy John in 2015 as a minor leaguer and reached the majors last year. This season, he pitched in 14 games for the Pirates before he was designated for assignment and signed by the Blue Jays, where he is 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 11 relief appearances.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at jdipaol[email protected] or via Twitter .