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Aroldis Chapman: 10 Exciting Young Flame-Throwers Whose Arms Fell Off

Asher ChanceySenior Analyst ISeptember 8, 2010

Aroldis Chapman: 10 Exciting Young Flame-Throwers Whose Arms Fell Off

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Over the course of what has been dubbed both "the Year of the Pitcher" and "the Year of the Rookie," the baseball viewing world has ridden quite the figurative roller coaster.

    At the beginning of the 2010 season, the world was abuzz with expectation and prediction regarding Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg, and he didn't fail to impress, striking out 14 batters in six innings in his major league debut. Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived, and we won't be hearing from Strasburg until some time in 2012.

    Never fear, though: there is a new phenom of the month, and his name is Aroldis Chapman. Like Strasburg, Chapman has the ability to kick the radar gun up over 100 mph. His 103 has been the talk of baseball.

    But are we just setting ourselves up for another fall? Is Chapman simply destined to suffer the same fate as Strasburg?

    Here's ten reasons to think maybe he is.

Tommy John

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    Okay, so Tommy John was neither young nor a flame-thrower when he went under the knife.

    Nevertheless, it seems inconsiderate to not consider his case.

    When John underwent the procedure, which is a reconstruction or replacement of the ulnar collateral ligament, it wasn't designed to further his career, but rather to allow him to use his arm. It was thought that pitching after the surgery would be out of the question.

    Nevertheless, Tommy made a full recovery and came back good as new.

    Before the surgery, John was 124-106 with a 2.97 career ERA.

    Over the 10 years after the surgery, John went 135-101 with a 3.51 ERA.

Smokey Joe Wood

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    It almost seems inevitable, doesn't it?, that a young pitcher who does things we've never seen before will turn out to be too good to be true.

    Such was the case with Smokey Joe Wood, who at the age of 22 went 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA and 35 complete games for the Boston Red Sox.

    When Walter Johnson was told that he'd been called the hardest thrower in the big leagues, the Big Train laughed off the accolade and said that no one threw harder than Smokey Joe Wood.

    Three seasons later, at the age of 25, Wood's pitching career was over.

    A quick note: when we invent time travel, we should go get Smokey Joe, bring him here, give him Tommy John surgery, and then see what happens.

    (And maybe we could pick up Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln and bring them to Kenesaw Mountain Landis and see if he can't move up the lifting of the color barrier by a couple of decades).

Stephen Strasburg

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Obviously, medical science has come a long way in the nearly 100 years since Smokey Joe Wood went by the wayside.

    Not only is the Tommy John procedure that Stephen Strasburg will soon undergo a standard one, but there is even a small fraternity of people who think that Tommy John surgery may not even necessarily be a bad thing.

    In fact, many pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery come back better than ever.

Ryan Dempster

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Ryan Dempster had tons of potential when he was coming up with the Florida Marlins, but five years into his major league career he was still just that: potential.

    Somehow it took Tommy John surgery to get him right. Now, he strikes out more batters per nine innings than he did as a youngster, and he is in the middle of a very good three year run.

Josh Johnson

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    If it feels like Josh Johnson's Cy Young candidacy in 2010 has come out of no where, that is partially correct.

    Johnson became a full time major league for the first time in 2006, at the age of 22, and went 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 157.0 innings pitched.

    Johnson disappeared after that, however, suffering through elbow injuries in 2007 before finally having the Tommy John procedure.

    After pitching a combined 103 innings in 2007 and 2008, the right-hander pitched 209 innings in 2009, and this season is on pace for over 200 innings and over a strikeout per innings pitched.

    After some slight road bumps, Johnson is one of the best pitchers in the NL.

Francisco Liriano

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Francisco Liriano started the 2006 season as a reliever with the Minnesota Twins, but soon enough became a starter and blew away the American League to the tune of a 12-3 record, a 2.16 ERA, and 144 strikeouts in 121.0 innings pitched.

    He looked like the next great thing.

    Unfortunately, Liriano missed all of the following season due to Tommy John surgery, and it took him the better part of two seasons to get back on track.

    Nevertheless, here he is three years later and he is 13-7 with a 3.24 ERA and 182 strikeouts in 172.1 innings pitched, and he has allowed only four home runs all season.

Joakim Soria

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    It would be difficult to find a player who had Tommy John surgery at an earlier point in their career than Joakim Soria. Soria had Tommy John surgery at the age of 19 and missed a full three seasons of professional baseball.

    Of course, since arriving in the majors in 2007, he's been one of the best closers in the game.

    Maybe all 19 year olds should have their ulnar collateral ligaments replaced.

Edinson Volquez

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Edinson Volquez followed the Francisco Liriano path, more or less.

    In 2008, his first year after escaping the Ballpark in Arlington, the 24 year old broke out with a 17-6 record, a 3.21 ERA, and 206 strikeouts in 196 innings pitched in his first full season in the big leagues.

    By June 1st of the following year, he was under the knife.

Eric Gagne

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    In 1996, at the age of 20, Eric Gagne struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings at Single-A Savannah.

    Then, in 1997, he had Tommy John surgery.

    Five years later, in 2003, Gagne struck out 15.0 batters per nine innings on his way to the NL Cy Young Award with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Mariano Rivera

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    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    As a minor league starting pitcher, Mariano Rivera went under the knife, with doctors intending to perform the Tommy John ligament replacement on him. However, once they were in, they determined that he didn't need the procedure, instead simply repairing the ligament.

    Humorously, while the operation and rehabilitation cost Rivera parts of the 1992 and 1993 minor league seasons, they also made him an unattractive candidate for the 1992 expansion draft. Thus, when the Yankees left him unprotected for the draft he went undrafted.

    And the rest is history.

Kerry Wood

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    On May 6, 1998, 20 year old Kerry Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros to tie the major league record for strikeouts in a game. It has generally been regarded as one of the greatest games ever pitched.

    Less than nine months later, Wood underwent Tommy John surgery and wouldn't be back in the lineup until the 2000 season.

    There is a common misconception that Wood was a guy who didn't make it back from Tommy John surgery. This is clearly not the case.

    Wood pitched about two-thirds of the 2000 season, going 8-7 with a 4.80 ERA in 137.0 innings pitched.

    Then, in 2001 he had 217 strikeouts in only 174.1 innings. In 2002 he again had 217 strikeouts, this time in 213.2 innings pitched. In 2003, he led the NL in strikeouts with 266 in 211.0 innings.

    Then, in 2004, he started having issues with injuries again. But Wood's subsequents injuries were to his triceps, his rotator cuff, his shoulder, and his knee.

    Tommy John and his surgery can rest assured: the procedure did its part.

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