Tommy John Surgery.
I doubt there is a worse phrase to be uttered for a pitcher.
TJ surgery was first performed by Dr. Frank Jobe. The surgery is done on the ulnar collateral ligament and involves grafting a tendon from the patient's hamstring, foot or forearm to repair the tear in the elbow. TJ surgery is a season-ender and can be a career-changer.
When Scott Baker went down with an elbow injury and ultimately underwent Tommy John Surgery, the Twins lost one of their most consistent pitchers and the pitcher that was widely considered to be the ace off the staff. With his injury to begin the 2012 season, the parade of starting pitchers trying their hand at the rotation began.
While Baker has made good progress in his recovery and has begun to throw the ball, there is uncertainty looming around his return.
Baker is slated to return to the mound early in spring training in 2013 after a lengthy recovery from TJ surgery. Even if he has a perfect rehabilitation, there is no guarantee when he will regain his pre-injury form or if he will.
The hope is that Baker will come back strong and ready to go in February or March with no setbacks whatsoever. This is very optimistic of course because it is equally possible that Baker could take a very long time, seasons even, to get back to where he was. Case and point is Francisco Liriano.
Liriano had TJ surgery in 2007 and has been erratic ever since. Prior to undergoing the surgery, Liriano was a collective 13-5 with a 2.74 ERA and an average of 2.43 BB per 9 innings in 2 seasons. In the 5 seasons since the surgery, Liriano is 37-47 with an ERA of 4.69 and allows 4.09 BB per 9 innings.
Every Twins fan knows that in some games it would look like Liriano would be getting back his pre-surgery form and then inevitably the next game he would surrender 7 runs and be done in 3 innings.
After his surgery, it seemed like Liriano was afraid to cut loose at times and, according to coaches, had developed a "head case" of sorts towards the end of his tenure with the Twins that he just couldn't get around. He just wasn't the same after his surgery.
Of course, the exact opposite could happen for Scott Baker and he could go on with his career like nothing even happened. There have been many pitchers that have successfully returned from TJ surgery and have gone on to be as good or better than before the surgery.
Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals had TJ surgery in 2007 and returned in his first full year back to place second in the CY Young award race. Jason Isringhausen has endured three TJ surgeries and continues to pitch well from the bullpen.
Tim Hudson underwent TJ in 2008 and since returning in 2009 to the Braves' rotation, Hudson is 51-26 with an ERA of 3.21. There are countless other success stories to be looked at for hope that Baker will come back in the form we know.
The point is that there is no guarantee for how Scott Baker will come back from the procedure. Injuries to a pitcher's throwing arm can be career altering.
The Twins have a club option for Baker in 2013 with a $9.25 million price tag. It is a cinch that Baker's innings should be limited next year until he can get back his stamina. The Twins most likely will not pick up the option but have talked about doing a one-year contract or perhaps an incentive-laden deal. $9.25 million is a lot to pay someone that may not be firing on all cylinders.
Should Scott Baker start the season in the rotation or from the bullpen?
The Twins organization does not know what form of Scott Baker will be joining them in spring training if they choose to retain him. It is a huge gamble for the Twins if they do decide to pick up the $9.25 million dollar tab and Baker doesn't or can't perform. At that point, if they were to try to trade or out-right him, they would still be on the hook for the rest of the money owed to Baker.
On the other hand, if the Twins decide not to pick up his option, it is perfect feasible that Baker could go on to have a great year for someone else...then the Twins would look like idiots and would be out a decent and historically consistent pitcher.
Ultimately, no one knows what will happen with Scott Baker in 2013. Many fans have stated that they think he should be in the mix for the rotation in 2013. I disagreed in my previous article not only because of the price tag he has on his 2013 option but also because it isn't a good idea to have him or expect him to go full-bore right away.
Of course, he could get back on the mound and do a good job like he always has. He could struggle for years before getting his form back or he could never regain it. If he goes too hard, too soon he could re-injure his elbow. There is no sure thing when it comes to returning from Tommy John Surgery.
Only time will tell if Baker can return to be the pitcher the Twins have sorely missed.