What’s Goin’ On Here?! Baseball’s Newest Epidemic

In 1973, the Los Angeles Dodgers were chasing down their fourth World Series title in franchise history. They had won in 1965 and were hungry to get back to the top of the baseball world. In pursuit of this, the franchise went out and looked to bolster the starting rotation which the great Don Sutton anchored.

The year before ‘73, the team made a move with the Chicago White Sox to do just this, and it was paying off. In his second season with the team, the former White Sox All-Star logged a 16-7 record with a 3.10 ERA and hurled 218 innings. And, although a championship was not the result in 1973, it appeared as though the Dodgers had won the trade with the White Sox.

The following season, the 16-7 record was on the cusp of being surpassed as the now third-year Dodger was out to a 13-3 start to his season. On July 17, 1974, the Dodgers were playing the Montreal Expos at Dodger Stadium and Hal Breeden was standing in the box. The next pitch delivered missed the strike zone entirely; a rare miss from a guy who did not walk many batters. The pitch after that bounced off the plate. It would be Tommy John’s last pitch until April 16, 1976. 

Nobody could’ve possibly predicted it then, but Tommy John’s name no longer belongs to him. Instead, it is the name of the most recent epidemic to hit baseball. And, make no mistake about it, it is an epidemic. Tommy John surgery seems to be metastasizing at an alarming rate around the sport. And, this past weekend appears to have been a breaking point. Everybody seems to now, finally, be channeling their inner Timon (you know, the one from The Lion King whose best friend is that pig named Pumba) and screaming “HEY! WHAT’S GOIN’ ON HERE?!”

The answer may be simpler than what people want to admit…

What’s Going On Here?!


The Issue

Over the past weekend (April 5- 7) Major League Baseball got hit with something that felt equivalent to the last plague out of Exodus. Players all over, pitchers especially, dropped like flies after making contact with that backyard blue light. Over the course of one weekend, a fistful of pitchers, both proven stars and young talent, heard Tommy John’s name in the doctor’s office. 

Shane Bieber finally looked back to form. Now, he won’t pitch until midway through 2025. Spencer Strider, one of the game’s most promising young stars, is headed to the operating table for the second time already. He’s only 25 years old. Jonathan Loisaga is out again for the season. This is the third time in the last two seasons that he will miss extended time with an elbow issue. Eury Perez, the young and budding talent in Miami, was told he, too, would need surgery to repair his elbow. He is only 20 years old and joins fellow Marlin Sandy Alcantara on the injury line. And, as this is being penned, the Tuesday after this apocalyptic weekend, Framber Valdez was added to the “discomfort in his elbow” list.

But wait, those are just the guys who went down this weekend with elbow issues. Yankee fans are still waiting with bated breath to hear about their ace Gerrit Cole and his golden elbow. Milwaukee Brewers standout, Brandon Woodruff, won’t pitch on account of his shoulder recovering from surgery. Kodai Senga has yet to take the mound in his second season in Queens. Shane Baz in Tampa Bay is still in recovery from Tommy’s surgery. And Jacob deGrom, well, let’s just let that one rest.

You get the point. There is a major problem. So one more time Timon, yell it for the people in the back: “WHAT’S GOIN’ ON HERE?!” Because whatever it is, it cannot continue.

The sport is already struggling to bring in viewers. Having your premier talent, as well as next decade’s All-Stars, continue to display an inability to stay on the field is simply not acceptable. So what do you do? What is the cause for all of this and what can you do to combat it?

Well, the first thing is to try to identify the answer to Timon’s question. What is actually going on here? Over the last few days, there has been a lot of detailed analysis to try and figure out the cause for the drastic uptick in arm injuries. This pitcher throws “flat” but this pitcher throws “up”. This pitcher has “an awkward arm angle” and this pitcher “has a smooth and effortless delivery.” “It’s the slider, not the fastball that is to blame.” “The pitch clock… It’s the pitch clock!” The talking points have varied, the discussions have differed, but they all miss the overall point. The simpler point. 

The human body can’t take it. We have surpassed the peak level that the human body can withstand and the infatuation with the radar gun has directly led to the current state. In other words, the 100 mph fastball has ruined pitching. Rewinding the clocks one generation of pitchers, and this new infatuation simply wasn’t present. You, of course, had outliers who were capable of hitting triple digits. But Randy Johnson was not the norm. In earlier generations, Nolan Ryan was not the norm. Neither were Walter Johnson or Bob Feller. Instead, there was an emphasis placed on “pitching” and not just “throwing.” Today, the last guy sitting in the bullpen in Oakland throws a 95 mph changeup.

Sure, speed will always (and has always) turn heads. But what’s that phrase that you hear in all those traffic safety commercials? “Speed kills!” And speed is most definitely killing pitchers’ elbows at an alarming rate. So, why? Why is it that this obsession with speed has put the sport in a stranglehold? How and why did we go from a game that taught its youngsters to “hit spots” and “locate” to one that now has 13-year-olds in Connecticut doing “pulldown” drills in a batting cage in January? (Go Youtube a pulldown drill and explain to me the benefit that has on a kid).  Surely, the answer must be that speed leads to success. That speed leads to more strikeouts and less contact. Right?

Well, actually, no.

The Reality

The reality is that the reason for the obsession with speed is not so simple to figure out. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. And this pudding shows that speed DOES NOT necessarily lead to more success. There are countless examples of guys who throw 101 mph fastballs and couldn’t miss a bat if it was made of dental floss. And there are a number of examples of guys who couldn’t break a pane of glass with their four-seamer but have great amounts of success at the big league level.

For starters, let’s take a look at MLB’s strikeout leader last year. Surely, it’s somebody like Hunter Green who throws the ball 102 mph on a cold and rainy day in Cincinnati, right? Wrong. That accolade actually belongs to Kevin Gausman who struck out 237 big leaguers in 2023. And yet, Gausman’s fastball sits anywhere from 91-95 mph, not 105.

In 2021, Robbie Ray led the league with 248 strikeouts. His fastball averaged 93 mph. You do not need to throw 100+ to have success in the majors. Just go and ask Greg Maddux. Changing speeds and locating will always trump the sheer hard thrower. Yet the sheer hard thrower is the one who still gets all the looks. Even though it appears that hard-throwing really only guarantees one thing: injury, not success.

If the reality is that velocity does not guarantee success, but it does drastically heighten the risk of major injury, why can’t we just go back? Let’s get back to a time when Pedro Martinez was an absolute flamethrower because when he really needed it, he could hit 98 on the gun. Back to a time when a little leaguer was told not to even think about snapping off that curveball, but instead was instructed to focus on hitting that outside corner consistently. Back to a time when the idea that a guy could make 30 starts a season year in and year out was more impressive than a guy who could make a baseball look like a tic-tac from the batter’s box, but couldn’t last more than half a year before needing surgery that would keep him sidelined for 18 months. If the issue is simpler to identify than many want to admit, the reasoning behind why there is such a need for speed is not.

But Wait, There’s More!

The obsession with speed, as far as this author is concerned, is the primary issue at hand here. However, it is partnered with something else. A lack of rest. Weird, right? Isn’t rest of paramount importance these days? Guys have scheduled off days throughout the season. Nobody plays 162 anymore. A pitcher throwing complete games? Yeah, right. But make no mistake about it, there has never been less rest than there is right now.

One of the slights against a guy like Babe Ruth is that he didn’t play against anyone except plumbers and used car salesmen. And, to an extent, there is some truth to this. Back in the day, the offseason was just that, an OFF season. Guys picked up second jobs, not baseballs. Even through the 1990s, you would hear baseball players, pitchers especially, talk about not even touching a ball from whenever the season ended until the new year. They’d take a couple of months to let the body completely shut down and rest.

Fast forward to the present and that no longer seems to be the case. Instead, social media accounts are full of off-season workout routines and schedules that help players show fan bases that they are working hard through those long and dreary winter months. Players go down into the Caribbean to play in winter leagues so that they can show up to spring training in peak shape. Only to show up, take some reps in either the Cactus or Grapefruit leagues and then have to sit because they are “mid-spring banged up.”

It is this constant use of the arm that has caused even guys like Robbie Ray who averaged a 93 mph fastball to require a repair to the tendons around their funny bone. Perhaps players should learn from the wisdom of the older generations and take the offseason, you know, OFF! Because the undeniable reality is that the combination of throwing harder than ever and throwing more than ever has brought the human body beyond its breaking point.

So What Now?

There is a bit of optimism as to where the sport heads from here. For a while, the sport has followed the textbook definition of insanity. That is to say that players have been doing the same thing over and over expecting the results to change. Overwork, overthrow, get hurt, repeat. However, it appears as though the number of injuries, among pitchers, and pitchers’ elbows especially, has finally reached a point where people are willing to change the approach.

That is not to say that all of a sudden we should expect the radar guns to stop lighting up with 103 mph fastballs. But the conversation has shifted. Players, front offices, media outlets, and fans have all begun screaming Timon’s question from the rooftops. And it appears as though everyone is beginning to “smell the coffee.”

One can only hope this to be true. The sport simply cannot handle the continued inability for its superstars to pitch.

PS: We really only mentioned the pitchers here! Position players are not exactly immune from this injury plague either. But that discussion will have to wait for another day.

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Hit the nail on the head. Love this conversation! It needs to be had!


Love this article, so well written. I agree completely!



Jionni Becerra-Castellanos

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Jose Portillo

wow there were a lot of really interesting facts here. just started watching baseball. really good to look at this teams history. good job.


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Victoria Bilinska

I think this plot really works because of how well you’ve paced the story!!

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