FanPost

Tanaka's injury: Should we be worried long term?

I was preparing a response in the gameday thread, but decided to put this into a fanpost. I was going to respond to nj23nut's call to get rid of the strength and conditioning coach, and this comment:

How does a guy like Tanaka, who is only 25 years old w/no arm troubles in Japan, all of a sudden after 18 starts has a partially torn UCL? Maybe the epidemic of TJS is due to the generally accepted practices of conditioning that is being used today. Not saying I know all the answers, but something is rotten in Denmark.

My first thought was that Tanaka also threw a lot of innings at a young age over in Japan - over 1300 from age 18 to 24. Since 1970, only 9 pitchers have thrown at least 1000 innings from 18-24 in major league baseball, and almost all of them had arm problems:

  • Bert Blyleven: elbow injury at 31, came back to pitch six straight 200 inning seasons from ages 33-38
  • Dwight Gooden - hurt shoulder at 24, average starter afterwards, last 200 inning season at 28 (due to arm and drug use/suspensions)
  • Fernando Valenzuela - average at 26, hurt shoulder at 27, below average afterwards, only one season of more than 200 innings
  • Frank Tanana - decline at 23 after early overuse, shoulder injury at 25, pitched 14 more years as crafty junkball lefty
  • Felix Hernandez - still going strong at age 28
  • Bret Saberhagen - Never threw more than 200 innings after age 25, missed time every year to mostly shoulder injuries
  • Dennis Eckersley - drinking and shoulder injury pushed him into bullpen at 32
  • Vida Blue - shoulder injury ended career at 36; drugs and early overuse turned him into average pitcher after age 21
  • Don Gullett - shoulder injury at 27, didn't pitch again

Most of these pitchers threw 1500+ innings after their age 24 season, so it isn't a complete loss. Only Felix (still pitching) and Don Gullett threw less than 1496 innings after age 24. Gullett was a big-time free agent signing by the Yankees whose shoulder injury ended his career at 27. However, most of them were not as effective, became completely different types of pitchers, or had to move to the bullpen.

I'm not saying I am worried this will happen to Tanaka. In fact, the good news is that it is Tanaka's elbow and not his shoulder, as 8 of the 9 guys above hurt their shoulders. The one that hurt his elbow, Blyleven, also went on to have the best career, a Hall of Fame career. So, worst case, we miss out on Tanaka for the rest of 2014 and all of 2015, but he should be able to come back at age 27 and be productive, if not as good as he is now. But best case, this is a blip on the radar of a great career.

FanPosts are user-created content and do not necessarily reflect the views of the writing staff of Pinstripe Alley or SB Nation.

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