Tuesday Rockpile: Tommy John Surgeries From Altitude

Doug Pensinger

We are told altitude puts a unique strain on pitchers, leading to injury. It makes sense, but how much truth is there?

The previous Rockies season has produced more philosophical and scientific hypotheses than any previous, excepting perhaps the maiden voyage of the humidor. As injuries racked up and veteran pitchers caved in to mental monsters, the front office-led narrative that Coors Field is a spiteful monster gained steam.

One month ago today, Dave Krieger interviewed John Smoltz. The eight-time All-Star mostly talked about the confidence problems Coors Field provides for developing young pitchers. However, he also talked about how he was forced to exhibit more effort on his pitches:

"What you end up doing, as I learned over time how to adjust, you end up throwing the ball harder, spinning it tighter, and you do things that are going to have a carryover effect to make you sore."

Matt Belisle said comparable things to Krieger in July. And really, neither proclamations are mind-blowing. They make plausible sense and align with longstanding ideas. They also lend credence to the theory that a pitcher pitching at altitude will get himself hurt more often.

The most famous injury for a pitcher is a torn ulnar collateral ligament, more commonly known for the surgery utilized to repair it - Tommy John. Jon Roegele has done the exhaustive work of compiling the history of Tommy John surgeries for each organization, major and minor leagues. In the Rockies' twenty-year history of pitching at altitude in Denver, only four pitchers on the MLB roster have had Tommy John. Roegele's initial list was missing Taylor Buchholz, and that omission makes it appear that the Rockies were tied for the fewest Tommy John players in MLB.

Player TJ Surgery Date Innings at Coors prior
Denny Neagle 7/30/2003 187.1
Denny Stark 1/1/2006, 1/1/07 129.2
Taylor Buchholz 6/1/2009 79.1
Jorge de la Rosa 6/3/2011 263.2

That is a pretty limited population. Colorado has had seven minor leaguers undergo the surgery, though three of those were position players (Holliday, Shealy, Sullivan).

This is hardly a complete study. Tommy John is not the only injury that disables a pitcher. Nor does the list does not include pitchers who carried their altitude-induced wear and tear to other organizations for Tommy John. The sample size here might not be significant enough. It does not measure the effect of soreness, bad mechanics or confidence issues that Coors Field places on its pitchers, all of which I believe exist.

But it certainly is interesting that one place one would expect elbow ligaments to break the most has in fact broken near the least.


Links

Matt Williams pleased after interviewing for Rockies' manager job - The Denver Post We learn that Williams was asked a lot of questions, mostly about altitude, and has no idea when the Rockies' decision would be made.

Like predecessors, Rockies' next manager faces difficult task - The Denver Post Patrick Saunders takes us through all the managers in Rockies history. It's bitter reminder of both Jim Leyland and that Jim Tracy is the winningest manager in franchise history (with an 0-5 buffer over Don Baylor).

Eric Young Sr. mentioned in Rockies' search for skipper | ColoradoRockies.com: News We keep getting other names slowly leaked out as candidates the Rockies talked to or were interested in. Pat Mackanin, Jerry Manuel and Steve Buechle were also preliminary candidates.

Happy Birthday Athletics Nation, SB Nation and Vox Media! - Athletics Nation SB Nation turns nine years old today.

The short career of Tagg Romney, Dodgers executive - latimes.com Frank McCourt hired the son of the possible new President of the United States despite being woefully underqualified. That designation probably belongs to both men in this story.

The Dodgers made waves last week by signing middle reliever Brandon League to a steep deal (3/$22.5). Dave Cameron at Fangraphs found two interesting comps to League that make less money, and both are former Rockies. I'll let you just click through to see Player 1 and Player 2.

MLBPAA Heart & Hustle Award | MLB.com: The Rockies' nominee was Michael Cuddyer, with Nick Hundley, Willie Bloomquist and Jerry Hairston also getting nominations in the division. The Giants' pick? Melky Cabrera. Oh Giants. To be clear, the award is designed to honor players who "demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the game."

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