Matt Harvey injury: Can you blame a thing?

Rich Schultz

I saw this Will Carroll column a few weeks ago and was saving it for ... well, it seems I was saving it for the next time a phenom tore an elbow ligament. And hey there, look what happened today:

The story, in case you're busy? Matt Harvey has a torn elbow ligament, and might well need Tommy John surgery, which would probably sideline him until 2015.

Or to put that another way, ugh and double-ugh. Anyway, here are Will Carroll's introductory grafs in an introductory column for his package on Tommy John surgery:

One-third of current MLB pitchers have had Tommy John surgery. Of the about 360 who started the season, 124 share the all-too-familiar triangular scar.

How surprising is this number? It stunned me! In recent talks with baseball officials, none guessed more than the one-in-nine number I had often seen quoted over the last decade (and quoted myself). Worse, none of us had any idea when this change had happened or noticed the acceleration.

I have to say, I was only mildly stunned. I wouldn't have guessed one in three, but I would have guessed more than one in nine. And the one in three is probably conservative, because Carroll almost certainly missed some pitchers who had the surgery before signing professional contracts.

According to Carroll, Frank Jobe -- who invented the surgery and belongs in the Hall of Fame -- attributes the rise of the procedure to one thing: "Overuse." And Dr. James Andrews says much the same, blaming all those elbow injuries on overuse before pitchers join the professional ranks. It's been well-documented that teenagers are having more and more of the surgeries, with Little League World Series pitchers almost routinely going under the knife.

Which seems sort of disgusting, doesn't it? But maybe we need to stop blaming the college coaches and professional managers of the world, and start blaming parents and youth coaches. Maybe it wasn't Matt Harvey's 157-pitch outing in college, or anything the Mets could have done differently. Maybe he pitched too much when he was 12 years old. Maybe arms aren't just designed to do what Harvey was doing with his. Or maybe, as Mark Mulder suggests, Harvey was just unlucky.

If you're running a baseball team, you have to hope it's not just luck. If you're running a baseball team, you have to hope you can spot the pitchers who are going to get hurt, and not draft or sign them. Or that once you've drafted or signed them, you can improve their chances of staying healthy. Because nobody likes to muddle along without hope.

Today, though, the Mets can only hope that Matt Harvey doesn't actually need the surgery. Or that if he does, he bounces back as well as so many pitchers have before him. Doesn't make 2014 any easier, though.

At least we'll always have this:

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