Did you see what happened to Atlanta Braves pitcher Dan Winkler this past weekend? If not, the video is hard to watch. He throws a pitch and immediately exits the mound in terrible pain. The diagnosis was a fracture of his elbow. This injury is something that will likely keep him out for the season, and it could potentially end his career.
The throwing motion is one of the fastest movements the human body can do. There is literature that shows the angular velocity at the elbow to be greater than 3,000 degrees per second during a single baseball pitch. That is the equivalent to rotating your arm around 360 degrees 20 times in one second! Now imagine doing that for multiple pitches per game and for multiple games per season. With this in mind, it is no wonder why so many pitchers sustain injury and have Tommy John surgery (or ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction), which Winkler had previously undergone.
During the reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament, which is a triangular ligament on the inside of the elbow, the surgeon drills bone tunnels into the arm so that the ligament can be “tied” in tight. With this surgery, there is always the possibility of weakening the area, even in perfect conditions with the perfect surgery. Still, at the late cocking position of the throwing motion, the force at the elbow is the equivalent of holding a 40-pound weight in your hand. Now imagine the repetitive stresses again. It’s not uncommon for players to experience a subsequent injury even after they’ve fully healed and returned to their sport after Tommy John surgery.1
This is an unfortunate set of circumstances for a young pitcher who has already gone through so much in his short career. Winkler will be facing months if not years of rehabilitation if he is going to battle back again. I wish him the best. And maybe he can seek some guidance from Baldwinsville, NY, native Jason Grilli who is currently on the Braves pitching staff. Jason has rehabbed from multiple complicated surgeries, most recently an Achilles tendon repair, but also the aforementioned Tommy John surgery.
One thing is certain, there is quite a large number of pitchers getting injured, and it is up to the baseball community to work together to figure out why and to work toward prevention.
- “Tommy John FAQ.” MLB.com, http://m.mlb.com/pitchsmart/tommy-john-faq (accessed April 12, 2016).