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Tommy John Surgery: Who's most and least likely to get it in 2016?

MLB Trade Rumors published an excellent bit of research about the likelihood of Tommy John surgery for pitchers in 2016 in February and I wanted to discuss it here, because it has very real fantasy impacts.

Mr. Jumpstep, Carter Capps, may be the first TJ victim this season. Who is most likely to join him?
Mr. Jumpstep, Carter Capps, may be the first TJ victim this season. Who is most likely to join him?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

With it being starting pitcher week here at Fake Teams, it seemed like a good occasion to discuss the biggest fear every fantasy owner has for their starting pitchers: the dreaded Tommy John surgery.

First, I want to be very clear that I am using work from someone else here, I do not want to take credit for the detailed research done by someone else. Bradley Woodrum over at MLB Trade Rumors published an excellent article on Tommy John surgery prediction back in February. Here is the link to that article. From that article, I want to pull his main top and bottom 10 table and discuss it here.

Basically, Woodrum used a bunch of indicators that show some correlation to pitchers that get Tommy John surgery. These factors are: left-handedness, standard deviation of release point, days lost to arm and/or shoulder injuries in 2015, previous Tommy John surgery, number of fastballs thrown, league adjusted ERA (ERA-), and age. He threw these all into a model, did some fits and came up with predictions on who is most and least likely to require the dreaded surgery this season.

top and bottom 10

There aren't a lot of surprises in this table. Brandon Morrow, Derek Holland, Jesse Hahn, and Josh Tomlin have all had significant injury issues in recent years, so it's not crazy to suggest that they could blow out their UCLs. In the bottom 10, you have a lot of old guys with low velocity that just keep hanging around. They don't throw hard and rely on command for success. Really, none of the bottom 10 guys are a surprise and most aren't fantasy relevant because they have very low ceilings. Interestingly, Bradley's article was the first place I ever heard that R.A. Dickey was born without a UCL and yet, somehow, is able to pitch a baseball for a living. Strange. I think his chance of tearing his UCL is indeed pretty small.

In the top 10 though, you do have some very interesting names. Archie Bradley has been hurt a lot, but he was once the top Diamondbacks prospect and used to have an ace ceiling, so some fantasy owners are still excited about him. I'm guessing his injury history puts him on this list. I think I will stay away from him, since injuries and poor control have really limited his ceiling. Jose Fernandez is on this list because he throws hard and already has one TJ surgery. Despite the risk shown here, I still love him for this season and think he will be his usual dominant self. This is a risk to keep in mind, however.

Chad Bettis was one of the best Rockies starters last year, which isn't saying much, but he showed little glimmers of skill. His presence on this list, however, is enough for me to avoid him altogether since he wasn't all that relevant to begin with. Carter Capps is interesting for several reasons. First, he has met with Dr. Andrews and had an elbow MRI already this spring, so it makes this list look like a very good predictor of surgery, since he will likely get TJS soon. Second, he was a popular relief pitcher pick in drafts this February due to his incredible performance last season and elite jump-step-driven velocity. His perceived velocity (due to releasing the ball closer to the batter further down the mound) was over 103 mph, besting even Aroldis Chapman. It's too bad that this list was right, he could have had a great year.

I was saddened to see one of my favorite mid-range starters and my recent acquisition in the Fake Teams Dynasty League, Drew Smyly high on this list. I suspect his shoulder issues last year and his left-handedness led to his inclusion. I really hope he stays healthy because I think he is very skilled and could have a great year. Tampa is a good pitcher's park and he has shown good strikeout ability.

The full list of Tommy John risk levels can be found in Bradley's article, so you can see where your favorite players fall or if you drafted a team full of high risk guys. I will say that pre-season darlings Raisel Iglesias, Kevin Gausman, Yordano Ventura, Danny Salazar, and Kyle Gibson show up just outside the top 10 riskiest pitchers. Relievers Roberto Osuna and Arodys Vizcaino are also high on the list. Lance Lynn shows up very high on the list as well, further showing that the model is a pretty good predictor of surgery.

Keep in mind that even the top guys in the list only have an estimated 6% chance of surgery, so it's not a foregone conclusion. Don't avoid those guys altogether, just consider it one piece of their overall value. I hope this information can be useful as you prepare for drafts or select keepers. Tschus!