There is an epidemic taking over MLB, and the Chicago White Sox are doing everything in their power to have it not make its way to the Southside of Chicago. While the past three to four years have all been considered the year of the pitcher, 2014 is known as the year of the Tommy John surgery.
In this season alone, there have been 17 pitchers with major league experience who have been shutdown due to season-ending injuries that require Tommy John surgery. The most prominent name on the list is Miami Marlins superstar Jose Fernandez.
Injuries that lead to Tommy John surgery are not anything new. Over the past decade, pitchers have required the surgery at a more alarming pace than in the past. Whether it be due to the increase in workload when kids are younger, or the wrong fitness programs being implemented, there is a common denominator out there.
People are even linking the place of the world that a player grew up with his chance of needing the surgery (higher chance if one grows up in warmer climate). The problem is, no one has found an underlying link.
A month ago, the White Sox decided to shut down ace Chris Sale after he was suffering from a strained flexor muscle. GM Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura were adamant that Sale was not injured and that they just wanted to play it safe. This was the second time that the Sox have shut down the lefty for precautionary reasons.
Sale was sporting a 3-0 record and a 2.30 ERA as well as a microscopic 0.84 WHIP at the time of his placement on the DL. With the Sox surprisingly competing in their first year of the rebuilding movement, it appeared like the least ideal time to put an ace on the shelf. Ventura pointed to the career-high of 127 pitches that Sale threw against Boston Red Sox as a reason why he felt some tightness. Even with him pitching some of the best baseball of his career and without many viable replacements in the minors, the team brass thought that it was the right time to shut down Sale.
Since he arrived on the big league scene as a reliever in 2010, Sale has not sustained an injury that has forced the team to place him on the DL for an extended period of time. Even with his funky arm motion that people believe will lead to his downfall, Sale has remained relatively healthy.
With the wave of season-ending injuries and Sale’s arm accumulating more and more pitches, the Sox can’t be too careful. For a franchise that has always been considered an outcast by the outside world, Sale and slugger Jose Abreu are two players that bring about excitement and attention. As the faces of the franchise, the ace is in the White Sox’ future plans at least until 2017, and is under team control until 2019. If babying his arm is what it takes, the Sox should be willing to do that.
The rash of injuries that require Tommy John surgeries have taught people that it could happen to anyone. It does not matter if a pitcher is a flamethrower or can’t top 90 mph. It does not matter if the pitcher has 10 years of major league experience or just one. The White Sox are doing it the right way. They know they cannot prevent it from happening to Sale, but that does not mean they won’t try.