After losing about three or four miles per hour on his fastball between last season and this season, it appeared there was a problem with Northwest Arkansas (AA) pitcher John Lamb early this season. At first the Royals said Lamb had a strained oblique, and the frustration turned into panic when Lamb left his May 19th start after just two pitches because of elbow pain.
Well it has been announced today that on Friday, Lamb will be having the notorious Tommy John surgery in Los Angeles to repair his elbow. The more I thought about the issue, the less I am concerned. Sure it is never good to see a pitcher of such great promise deal with an injury, but Tommy John surgery isn't what it once was 15 or 20 years ago.
Growing up when I heard a pitcher was going to be having Tommy John surgery if often made you think their career was likely over, or they would never been the same. The medical advancement as of late is very similar to a player dealing with an ACL injury. As the years go on, we often see players come back from both injuries without much setback.
Sure there are pitchers who haven't quite been the same after having the surgery, but there are many young players who have had the same surgery and came back to be effective, or even dominant. The leading example may be Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson who had Tommy John done at the age of 23, back in 2007. Since Johnson returned in 2008, all he has done is become a two-time All-Star, along with leading the National League in ERA last season. His recovery time before he was back pitching in major league games was 11 months.
Jaime Garcia missed the 2009 season after having the surgery, and last year in his rookie season for the Cardinals went 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA. Another Cardinals pitcher, Chris Carpenter, was great the past two seasons going 33-13 for St Louis. He is struggling this season, by that may be a sign of his age (36) more than anything.
Brewers closer John Axford actually had Tommy John surgery in college, when he was the same age as Lamb is now (20), and it hasn't seemed to effect his pitching either, as he is 8-3, with a 2.97 ERA and 38 saves in his young career. Nationals star Stephen Strasburg is probably the biggest name in baseball currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.
So while it is a concern having the injury, Lamb has youth on side, and others have shown it can be something that can be overcome. Afterall, this isn't the first big setback Lamb has suffered. He missed playing his senior year of high school after he suffered a fractured elbow in a car accident. He certainly came back from that just fine.
With the recovery process, Lamb should be hopefully be pitching back in the minors in the second half of 2012, and hopefully we can expect big things out of him in 2013.