On June 12th in Secaucus, New Jersey, Major League Baseball will hold their annual First Year Players Draft. The consensus top prospect in this year’s draft is 17-year-old pitcher Hunter Greene of Los Angeles, California. Greene features a superb resume of pitches including a changeup, slider, and a fastball that averages between the speeds of 94 and 98 MPH and has even touched as high as 101 MPH on the radar gun. While throwing a 101 MPH fastball will make Major League scouts drool, it comes with a price.

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In a precautionary effort to preserve his arm, Greene was shut down from pitching the entire spring. The question you may find yourself wondering is why are they being precautionary about a 17-year-old kid with no history of health problems? The answer is the fear of elbow and arm related injuries that have increasingly continued to plague pitchers of all levels over the last decade: especially one in the Ulnar Collateral Ligament of the medial elbow requiring what has become all too common a surgical procedure known as Tommy John surgery.

So what exactly triggers damage to the ulnar collateral ligament?

It would not be too farfetched to call it a miracle that the number of Major League pitchers who have received Tommy John surgery is not higher than twenty-five percent. Dr. Glen Feischig of the American Sports Medicine Institute has likened the amount of stress pitchers put on their elbows to, holding “five bowling bowls in your hand at once.” The way Dr. Fleisig explained it is when a pitcher cocks his arm back he creates what is called a “varus torque” with the angle the elbow makes. When a pitcher then moves the arm back to the front to throw a ball, he is putting “100 newton meters” of pressure on the elbow. “A bowling ball weighs 12 pounds, let’s say. If you put a bowling ball in your hand, imagine what your elbow would feel like.

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That would not be 100 newton meters. One hundred newton meters would be 60 pounds. Five bowling balls. Picture five bowling balls of force. That’s the stress of that instant in the elbow.”

By performing this motion, a pitcher is putting insane amounts of stress on the ulnar collateral ligament (area in which Tommy John surgery is performed in the arm). The ulnar ligament is only able to provide half of the total resistance! This means that while a pitcher is putting 100 newton meters of pressure on their elbow, the ligament is only able to withstand 50-55 newton meters of it. During a test that Dr. Fleisig ran on cadavers, the UCL in the cadavers broke after 32 newton meters of stress. While a living person's UCL is stronger, what it means is that every time a pitcher throws a pitch, they are either putting the maximum amount of pressure on their elbow or they are putting so much pressure on the elbow that it should break.

Despite these astounding facts, there has been a common misconception going around that Tommy John surgery is beneficial as it quote-on-quote strengthens the elbow leading to a mind-boggling decision by some parents today to have their young kids with healthy elbows get the surgery to strengthen the elbow past normality.

This is not only wrong but also incredibly dangerous. I decided to investigate three players who had Tommy John surgery, came back, but did not pitch more than 100 more career innings: the three players include Victor Zambrano, B.J. Ryan, and Taylor Bucholz.

Victor Zambrano

The first name on that list of players is Venezuelan right-hander, '. Zambrano came up through the Tampa Bay Devil Rays minor league system and made his MLB debut during the 2001 season. Zambrano was known for an aggressive pitching style that featured a sinking fastball which topped out at 95 MPH, a changeup, and a slider. In his rookie season, Zambrano posted a 3.11 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 51 and one-third innings.

During the following season, Zambrano found himself converted during the middle of the season from a bullpen role that he seemed to strive in towards a starting rotation role. Zambrano became erratic as a starting pitcher leading the American League in walks, wild pitches, and batters hit leading to his eventual trade to the New York Mets during the 2004 MLB season at which point, he had officially become a full-fledged, Major League Baseball starting pitcher. Then, it happened.

During a start on May 6th, 2006, Victor Zambrano suffered a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow which required season ending surgery. While the surgery was being performed a few weeks later, the doctors unexpectedly found a torn elbow ligament in Victor Zambrano’s arm: in the ulnar collateral ligament which resulted in Zambrano needing Tommy John surgery.

Facing nearly two full seasons of rehab, the Mets decided to non-tender Zambrano that December. Over the final two seasons of his professional baseball career, Zambrano bounced around from team to team hoping to find the home that would never be. Zambrano spent most of those two seasons playing in the minor leagues between the Blue Jays, Pirates, Orioles, Rockies, and Yankees. In fact, Zambrano only made 13 Major League appearances (4 starts) over his last two seasons. The latter of which came for the Orioles in which he made 5 appearances (2 starts) and pitched to a 9.49 ERA.

After the MLB, Zambrano struggled to stay playing the game he loved by trying to find work in the Chinese Professional Baseball League and the Mexican League. Things got so bad for Zambrano that he was let go from the Dorados De Chihuahua after eight appearances pitching to a 7.02 ERA. So that was the end of Zambrano. He was out of the Major Leagues at 33 and out of professional baseball at 35. His career was forever altered by ulnar collateral ligament repair surgery.

Robert Victor 'B.J.' Ryan, Jr.

The second player on the list is lefty specialist Robert Victor “B.J.” Ryan, Jr. who was probably best known for his three-quarter delivery. He was considered a dominant pitcher against left handed hitting for many years. Ryan made his debut in July of 1999 for the Cincinnati Reds and was soon traded that same year to the Baltimore Orioles. Ryan struggled with walks for much of his early career while always being a strikeout machine up until 2003.

During that season, B.J. Ryan pitched to a 3.40 ERA with just 27 walks and 63 strikeouts in 50 and one-third innings. Ryan continued to improve including reaching achievements such as moving up to the Baltimore set-up role and eventually, taking Jorge Julio’s job as the Orioles closer. B.J. Ryan rose even further by becoming an all-star in back to back seasons in 2005 and 2006. Ryan racked up a total of 74 saves between the two seasons with a combined 1.90 ERA 186 strikeouts with just 46 walks in 142 and two-thirds innings.

He even commanded a substantial payday from the Blue Jays during the 2006 MLB offseason, striking a five-year, 47-million-dollar contract which surpassed Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees as the highest paid reliever in MLB history. Just when B.J. Ryan seemed on top of the world, he came crashing back down.

The Blue Jays announced on May 10th, 2007 that B.J. Ryan had undergone left elbow Tommy John surgery. His 2007 season was over. Unlike Victor Zambrano though, B.J. Ryan came back in April of 2008 to pitch an impressive season of a 2.95 ERA over 58 innings pitched with 58 strikeouts to just 28 walks. He was even a candidate for reliever of year. It appeared to everyone in the baseball world that B.J. Ryan was back as good as new. Unfortunately, this is no picture-perfect ending for Ryan’s story.

During the 2009 season, B.J. Ryan suffered from a serious drop in velocity which set him off into a slow start. In July, Ryan was released by the Blue Jays after pitching to a 6.53 ERA in 20 and two-thirds innings over 25 appearances with 17 walks in comparison to 13 strikeouts. Ryan was the signed to a minor-league contract by the Chicago Cubs. Due to his worry of his continuing drop in velocity, B.J. Ryan asked for an unconditional release in August and never made it out of Triple-A Iowa despite pitching to a 0.00 ERA in 5 and two-thirds innings. B.J. Ryan, was 33 years old and out of professional baseball just like Victor Zambrano.

Taylor Bucholz

The third player on that list of names is Taylor Bucholz. Bucholz, a Springfield, Pennsylvania native and distant relative of longtime Red Sox and current Phillies pitcher Clay Bucholz, made his professional debut in 2006 for the Houston Astros. Originally labelled a starter, after posting a 5+ ERA in his rookie season, he slowly made the transition to relief pitcher. He became a full-time reliever in the 2008 season with the Colorado Rockies.

Taylor found his most success in 2008 as the Rockies set-up man, possessing a nasty curveball as his out pitch. In 66 and one-thirds innings Bucholz posted a 2.17 ERA with just 18 walks and 56 strikeouts. Then, as we have seen before with Zambrano and Ryan, everything changed.

Bucholz missed the entire 2009 MLB season due to Tommy John Surgery. During his minor-league rehab in Triple-A Colorardo for the Spring Sox, Bucholz was absolutely shelled by opposing competition posting a 5.89 ERA in just 18 and one-third innings pitched. Bucholz was then waived by the Rockies and picked up by the Blue Jays. He was then waived by the Blue Jays and picked up by the Red Sox who, non-tendered him on December 2nd. The New York Mets then decided to take a chance on Bucholz, signing him to a one year deal in January of 2011.

The best way to describe Bucholz during the 2011 was frustration. Due to still not being able to have the same stuff he once possessed pre-Tommy John, Bucholz suffered bouts of depression. He threw just 26 innings on the season and posted a 3.12 ERA. The Mets then decided to outright Taylor Bucholz off the roster in November of 2011, ending his professional baseball career.

Is there any statistical data that provides a reason why more pitchers are having Tommy John surgery in recent years?

Of the 2 percent% of all MLB pitchers who have Tommy John surgery, 78 percent return to the majors. That is nearly 4 out of every 5. You would think those numbers show success, would you not? Here’s what 78 percent does not tell you. According to a study done by the website, Hardball Times, the median amount of appearances that pitchers make post Tommy John surgery since 2010 is 29 and the median amount of innings is just 47.

So yes, Hunter Greene may never come across these elbow problems and may enjoy a career in the MLB mostly injury free and achieving stardom. However, Hunter Greene is not the high school prospect who throws 100 MPH nowadays. It is becoming increasingly common for young pitchers to develop pitches that are too fast and too stressful on their arm too early in their life combined with overworking themselves by playing baseball 9-10 months a year like professional MLB players do.

If you look at the average fastball velocity of the MLB last season, it was just about 91.8 MPH. The average fastball velocity in 2006 in the MLB was 89.8 MPH. That projects that in 2046, a pitcher’s average fastball velocity in the MLB will be 97.8 MPH. That kind of stress is extremely damaging on a human elbow and will lead to an increase of both pitchers who need Tommy John surgery as well as an increase of pitchers who will have their dreams of being an MLB player cut short, all because they were throwing a baseball at 96 MPH, 10 months a year, in the 8th grade.