If someone told you that you needed to have your elbow operated on to repair torn ligaments, your first thought or action would be to run and hide. No one is cutting into this elbow!
But if you are a Major League pitcher, ligament replacement surgery—also known as Tommy John Surgery—is not always the worst thing in the world. Many pitchers have undergone the operation, and came out just as good, if not better, than they were prior to surgery.
The recovery time is a long, difficult period. But in most cases, the wait has been worth the result.
Here is a look at some of the best pitchers to undergo the operation, and what their career was like before and after the surgery.
Josh Johnson was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fourth round in 2002. He made his Major League debut in 2005, and he now has the team's lowest career ERA all-time (2.98).
He had his first full season in 2006, going 12-7 with a 3.10 ERA in 31 appearances. He finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting that year.
He underwent Tommy John surgery on August 3, 2007, after appearing in just four games that year for the Fish. Less than a year later, he was back on the mound (he returned from the disabled list on July 10, 2008).
Since the operation, Johnson has a 2.80 ERA and has averaged 128 strikeouts per season. He led the league with a 2.30 ERA in 2010, and had back-to-back All-Star selections in '09 and '10.
He is currently on the 60-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, and is due back shortly after the All-Star break.
The 27-year-old still remains one of the game's premier young arms, and should give the Marlins a big boost when he makes his return.
Almost exactly one year following Johnson's operation, right-hander Tim Hudson underwent Tommy John surgery on August 8, 2008.
Hudson, originally drafted by the Athletics in 1997, was part of the three-headed pitching monster that also included Barry Zito and Mark Mulder.
In 2000, just his second season in the big leagues, Hudson led the league with 20 victories.
Overall, prior to the surgery, Hudson had a record of 146-77. He also averaged just over 200 IP each season from 1999-2008 (before he went on the disabled list in July).
Hudson returned from his rehab on September 1, 2009 and made seven starts for the Braves that year. He had a tremendous bounce-back season in 2010. He won 17 games to go along with a 2.83 ERA, earning National League Comeback Player of the Year honors.
The Toronto Blue Jays selected right-hander Chris Carpenter 15th overall in the 1993 draft. After making his debut with the Jays in '97, Carpenter won 49 games through the 2002 season (his final season in Toronto).
After missing all of the 2003 season, he signed a free agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals—with whom his career really took off. After being named NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2004, he won the National League Cy Young award in 2005. That year, Carpenter won 21 games for the Redbirds.
He was the Cardinals' Opening Day starter in 2007, but that would be the only game he would pitch in all year. He was placed on the disabled list on April 10, and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery on July 24.
He attempted a comeback in 2008, but managed to only make four appearances (three starts) before being shut down in September.
He came back strong in '09, however, when he again was named Comeback Player of the Year. In fact, he finished second in the Cy Young award voting that year as well, and won 17 games, with a league best 2.24 ERA.
Carpenter had a similarly fine season in 2010, winning 16 games and earning his third All-Star selection.
How good was A.J. Burnett before his Tommy John surgery? Well, in just his second full season in the Major Leagues, he tossed a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in 2001.
Burnett, originally selected by the Florida Marlins in the 8th round of the 1995 draft, was indeed a flamethrower. He struck out 203 batters in 2002, and was looking like a young Pedro Martinez.
But in 2003, he was shut down after making just four starts for the Fish. He would have Tommy John surgery on April 29, and would be sidelined until June of the following year.
He came back in '04 and looked just about as good as could be. He struck out 113 batters in 120 innings pitched that year. In 2006, Burnett flew north of the border, signing a free agent contract with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Overall, since the operation, Burnett has a 4.05 ERA, and has averaged over 150 strikeouts per season. Now in his third season with the New York Yankees, the 34-year-old already has 85 strikeouts on the year.
Chris Capuano is 7-7 in his first season with the Mets
Left-hander Chris Capuano is a rare case. He didn't just have a Tommy John surgery...he's had two!
Capuano, originally selected in the eighth round of the 1999 draft by the Diamondbacks, spent five seasons pitching for the Brewers.
Of course, not only pitchers are susceptible to elbow injuries. Take, for instance, Korean outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Choo, originally signed by the Seattle Mariners in 2000, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007 while playing for the Indians.
And the success stories don't end with pitchers either. Choo came back from his injury better than ever. Prior to his surgery, Choo had a total of three Major League home runs over parts of three seasons in Seattle and Cleveland.
Choo returned to the Tribe in May of 2008, and since then he's become a legitimate offensive threat in the middle of the Indians' lineup. Between '08-'11 (entering play on Thursday), Choo has a .293 batting average and averaged 15 home runs over that stretch, including the 22 he knocked out last year.
He's on the disabled list now, recovering from left thumb surgery. He's expected to be sidelined for about 8-10 weeks.
Jaime Garcia has turned into one of the finest young left-handers in the game today. He could be considered the "poster boy" for success stories of players who have undergone Tommy John surgery.
Garcia, drafted by the Cardinals in 2005, appeared in 10 games during his rookie season in '08. And after being optioned and subsequently recalled, it seemed that Garcia was destined to stay with the big club.
But towards the end of August that season, Garcia was placed on the disabled list, and on September 8, he underwent Tommy John Surgery. He would miss the entire 2009 season.
But he returned in 2010, and was impressive right out of the gate. He pitched at least five innings in each of his first 14 starts of the campaign, allowing more than three earned runs just four times over that span. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Garcia's 1.49 ERA in his first 12 starts is the lowest for any rookie left-hander.
Overall, Garcia concluded 2010 with 13 wins, best among rookie pitchers. His 2.70 ERA was fourth in the National League. He made 28 starts for the Cards.
And so far in 2011, Garcia has picked up right where he left off. He has nine wins, a 3.11 ERA, and 106 punch-outs.
There may not have been a better trade that was equally beneficial to both clubs than the Edinson Volquez-for-Josh Hamilton deal in 2007. We all know what Hamilton has done for the Texas Rangers (2010 AL MVP). And Volquez has become an ace for the Cincinnati Reds' rotation.
In 2008 (his first season with the Queen City), Volquez won 17 games for the Reds, sported a nifty 3.21 ERA and struck out over 200 batters. He was named to his first (and so far only) All-Star game that season.
But whatever magic he possessed in that right arm disappeared in 2009. He made nine starts for the Reds while dealing with back spasms and arm troubles. His season was over on June 1. Two months later, he had season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Volquez needed almost no time to return to form, however. He returned to the Reds last July, and was immediately effective. In his first Major League start in over a year, Volquez pitched six innings of three-hit ball, striking out nine Rockies in the process.
Overall, his numbers have not been as attractive as his 2008 rookie campaign. But he's been a horse for the Reds, making 16 starts so far in 2011.
Phenom Stephen Strasburg will look to resume his presence on the mound in 2012.
The Major League debut of Stephen Strasburg in 2010 was arguably the most anticipated moment in the history of the Washington Nationals. The 2009 first overall draft pick debuted on June 8, and dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates. He struck out 14, allowing just two earned runs over seven innings.
Strasburg was putting together a very impressive rookie season, until he blew his arm out in an August 21 game against the Phillies. That game still stands as the last time Strasburg has stood on a Major League mound.
In September of 2010, all of Natstown held their breath as Strasburg underwent Tommy John Surgery. Now, Strasburg is on the road back. And while there is a chance he could be back towards the end of the 2011 season, the Nationals aren't expecting any major contributions from the young phenom until 2012.
In other words, Opening Day 2012 will be the second most anticipated moment in Nationals history (assuming Strasburg is named the team's Opening Day starter).
Billy Wagner ranks fifth all time in saves.
Billy Wagner was one of the most dominating closers the game has ever seen. The left-hander's ability to throw 95-MPH heat along with a devastating slider continuously made hitters look silly.
His 422 saves currently place him fifth all-time. But in 2008, he too endured his encounter with Tommy John Surgery.
At the time, he was closing games for the New York Mets. He saved 27 games for the Mets, despite having his season end in early August. He was placed on the disabled list on August 5, and had his operation on September 10.
Now, the average recovery time for Tommy John patients is 12-15 months. But that was apparently too long of a time frame for Wagner. He rejoined the Mets bullpen on August 20 the following year—less than 12 months removed from his operation. He was dealt to the Red Sox later that month.
Before this most recent injury, Wagner was as durable as they come. From 2001-2008, he averaged 64 appearances per season, with a total of 278 saves over that span. Could Wagner, who retired from baseball in 2010, be another great closer to find his way into Cooperstown?
This cameo pitching performance resulted in Tommy John Surgery for Jose Canseco
Amidst all of the controversy surrounding Jose Canseco regarding steroid usage, the 17-year veteran put together an impressive resume over his career.
The slugging outfielder/designated hitter cracked 462 career long balls, was the 1986 American League Rookie of the Year, the 1988 AL MVP, and was a six-time All-Star.
But Canseco was also known for some of the strangest, most bizarre moments in baseball. For instance, while playing for the Texas Rangers in 1993, Canseco convinced manager Kevin Kennedy to allow him to pitch during a blowout loss to the Red Sox in May.
That day, Canseco walked three batters, allowed two hits and three earned runs over one inning pitched. During that outing, Canseco injured his arm and was forced to undergo Tommy John Surgery. He would miss the entire rest of that season.
Canseco was able to bounce back in 1994, and never again would he step foot on a Major League mound.
Adam Wainwright is the fourth Cardinals pitcher (third still with the team) to crack this list. He has not, and will not throw a single pitch this year--and his absence from the Cards' rotation is arguably the biggest loss any team has endured this season.
A 20-game winner for the Redbirds a season ago, Wainwright underwent Tommy John Surgery on February 28 and is due to miss the entire 2011 season.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they have managed to survive without their ace pitcher. Entering play on Thursday, they sit in third place in the NL Central, just two games out of first place.
But their staff ERA of 3.95 is well below the league average, and much of that can be attributed to the void left by Wainwright.
Francisco Liriano burst on to the scene with a 12-3, 2.16 ERA rookie season in 2006.
Minnesota Twins' left-hander took the baseball world by storm in h is rookie campaign of 2006. He finished that season 12-3, with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts in just 121 innings pitched.
But unfortunately, the storm didn't last very long. His season ended on September 13, and two months later he underwent Tommy John surgery, and therefore missed the entire 2007 season.
He returned to the Twins' rotation in time for the start of the '08 season, however, and he initially struggled to regain his rookie form. He failed to pitch longer than five innings in any of his first three starts of 2008. After those three starts, he possessed an ugly ERA of 11.32--prompting the Twins to send the lefty down to Triple-A.
He was recalled in August, and finally found his rhythm. He finished that season with a 3.91 ERA.
Overall, since his operation, Liriano has not been the same pitcher he was before. Unlike other pitchers who have had the procedure, his numbers have actually gone the wrong way from where they were prior to the surgery.
Entering play on Thursday, Liriano has a 4.44 ERA since the '08 season, with a sub-.500 record. He did enjoy a bit of a renaissance in 2010, posting 14 wins and a 3.62 ERA. He has the skills to rebound into the ace he seemed destined to become. Whether that happens in a Twins uniform remains to be seen, however.
Rick Ankiel, now hitting home runs for the Nationals, was once a phenom pitcher for the Cardinals.
If there was ever a player to have lived a tale of two lives, it would be Rick Ankiel. Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2nd round in 1997, Ankiel came up in '99 and made an immediate impact. In just 33 innings that season, Ankiel struck out 39 batters.
He continued that success into the 2000 season, when he won 11 games and struck out nearly 200 batters. That year, he helped the Cards reach the postseason, which in turn wound up being the beginning of the end of his days as a pitcher.
During that postseason, the wheels came completely off for the left-hander. In two series (NLDS against the Braves and NLCS against the Mets), Ankiel pitched a total of four innings.
He walked 11 batters, allowed five hits and seven earned runs--amassing a hefty 15.75 ERA in the playoffs. He also managed to uncork nine wild pitches, including five in one inning against the Braves.
While a good portion of his problems were mental, Ankiel did suffer from an elbow sprain that caused him to miss the entire 2002 season. And though he returned to minor league pitching in 2003, that July he underwent Tommy John surgery.
He would take a Major League mound just five more times in 2004. On March 9, 2005 he "retired" from baseball as a pitcher, with the intention of becoming a full-time outfielder. And he did just that. In 2007, he returned to the Cardinals big league roster as an outfielder, and slugged 11 home runs in 172 at bats.
Overall, since his transition to hitter/outfielder, Ankiel has a .248 batting average, 56 home runs and 185 RBI. Not exactly eye-popping, Ruthian-like numbers, but none too shabby for a former pitcher.
Brett Anderson is the most recent Major League pitcher to endure Tommy John surgery. Originally placed on the disabled list on June 7, Anderson underwent the operation last week. He will miss the rest of the season, and most (if not all) of 2012.
Anderson, 23, is a great talent, and the Oakland A's well certainly feel the sting of not having him in their rotation. He has a career 3.66 ERA, but has had a history of elbow problems. Hopefully for him and the A's, he will be another Tommy John surgery success story.
John Smoltz is in a class of his own - the only pitcher ever to have 150 saves and 200 wins.
Right-hander John Smoltz put together what is inevitably to be considered a Hall-of-Fame career, but he too was unable to avoid Tommy John Surgery.
Smoltz underwent the operation in 2000, right in the middle of his career. He missed that entire season, which was a big blow considering he was a dominant starting pitcher at the time. From 1988-1999, he won 157 games for the Atlanta Braves, recorded just under 2,100 strikeouts over that span and was the National League's Cy Young award winner in 1996.
Smoltz returned to the Braves from his operation on May 17 2001, and after making five starts, Smoltz moved to the bullpen. For the next four seasons, Smoltz transformed from a dominant starter to a dominant closer. He led the league in 2002 with 55 saves. Overall, he saved 154 games from 2001-2004.
In '05, Smoltz went back to the rotation and became the first (and still the only pitcher) to log at least 150 innings the season after he saved at least 40 games. Smoltz is also the only pitcher in history to have at least 150 career saves and 200 career victories.
Despite enduring a bit of a tailspin towards the end of his career, Smoltz still finished up in fine form. After his operation, the eight-time All-Star won 56 more games and struck out nearly another 1,000 batters.
One of the best pitchers of his generation, Smoltz, who retired in 2009, should find himself a nice place in Cooperstown before too long.
Kerry Wood was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1998. He didn't throw a pitch in 1999.
After an incredible rookie season in 1998, former first-round pick Kerry Wood underwent his Tommy John operation in the spring of 1999. Many fault former Cubs' manager Dusty Baker for overusing his young right-hander, leading to a slew of arm and elbow troubles.
Wood was the league's Rookie of the Year in 1998, the year in which he struck out 20 Houston Astro batters. He missed all of 1999 after having surgery, but returned in 2000. He struggled in his return season, but bounced back into shape in '01, recording 217 strikeouts.
Arm troubles continued to plague him, however. In 2006, he missed all but four games for the Cubs. But he has persevered, and today Wood is back hurling in the Cubbies' bullpen (after spending time with the Indians and Yankees).
Joe Nathan is another superb closer to make this list. Nathan, who has been closing games for the Minnesota Twins since they acquired him before the '04 season, underwent Tommy John surgery last March and never threw a pitch in 2010.
Prior to this season, Nathan has saved 246 games from '04-'09, averaging about 41 saves per season over that stretch. His 253 career saves are good for fifth among active pitchers. And he's a four-time All-Star.
Last season, after Nathan went down with his injury, the Twins acquired right-hander Matt Capps from the Nationals to become their closer. Capps saved 16 games for the Twins last year, and so far has 15 in 2011.
However, last weekend, manager Ron Gardenhire gave the closer keys back to Nathan, and so far he is 3-for-3 in save opportunities since that time. It looks like Nathan is back to form following his ligament replacement surgery.
Right-hander Joba Chamberlain is the Yankee pitcher to undergo Tommy John Surgery. Joba was placed on the disabled list on June 8, and was operated on by Dr. James Andrews the following week. He will miss the remainder of the 2011 season, and at least half of the 2012 season.
Chamberlain finishes this season with a 2-0 record and a 2.83 ERA in 27 appearances. The former first-round pick had been tabbed to be the late-inning bridge to closer Mariano Rivera following an injury to fellow reliever Rafael Soriano. Clearly, that didn't last too long.
Tommy John won 288 games over his 26-year career
What would this list be without Tommy John, the man who started it all? The left-hander came up with the Indians in 1963. Between then and 1974, he won 124 games and had accumulated almost 1,300 strikeouts.
But in July of '74, he injured his throwing elbow--permanently damaging the ulnar collateral ligament. In September, he underwent a revolutionary surgery, which involved replacing the ligament in his left elbow with a tendon from his right forearm. The surgery, which was originally performed by Dr. Frank Jobe, is now commonly known as Tommy John Surgery.
Following the operation, John was certain he'd never pitch again. But he spent the entire 1975 season in recovery, and was back on the mound for the Dodgers (the team which acquired him in 1971) in April of '76--and he never looked better.
From 1976 until his final season of 1989, John won 164 of his 288 total victories and averaged 27 starts per season. Overall, he pitched for an incredible 26 seasons, recording over 2,200 strikeouts.
The four-time All-Star paved the way for dozens of players to repair their torn ulnar collateral ligaments via Tommy John Surgery.