Leon E. Popovitz, MD
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ny mets matt harvey

NY Mets’ Harvey Pitch Count Controversy: A Medical Opinion

There has been a rising controversy over the NY Mets’ ace Matt Harvey’s remaining innings pitched this year. This is Harvey’s first season back from undergoing Tommy John Surgery (Ulnar Collateral Ligament Reconstruction) back in October of 2013. His agent, Scott Boras, has expressed wishes to limit Harvey’s remaining innings this year in order to protect Harvey’s reconstructed elbow. The Mets, of course, want Harvey ready and willing to pitch well deep into the playoffs. They recently conceded that they will limit his innings for the remainder of the season in order to preserve his elbow for the upcoming playoffs

So, what are the facts about innings pitched and performance after Tommy John Surgery? The fact of the matter is, there is controversy in the orthopedic medical world, as well. There are studies that tracked performance and innings pitched in Major League Baseball pitchers after Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) reconstruction, but definitive recommendations about innings pitched at this stage after surgery are not absolute

One major study followed the results of 179 Major League pitchers. This study revealed that pitchers returning from Tommy John Surgery had fewer innings pitched per season versus before surgery. This, though, was not as a result of intentionally limiting the pitcher’s innings. In fact, many of the starting pitchers became relief pitchers which would, in itself, significantly diminish the average innings. Moreover, these pitchers returning from UCL reconstruction had fewer wins and losses per season, as well as lower winning percentages, which could also be attributed to many converting into relievers. Interestingly, the pitchers also had lower ERA’s, and walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP).

Another study revealed that Major League pitchers who underwent UCL reconstruction, returned at an average of 18.5 months after surgery. They too, on average, revealed a significant decrease in innings pitched per season. Nonetheless, when comparing to the control group (an expected level of performance in all Major League pitchers during a course of 7 seasons) there was no statistical difference. So, it is definite that innings pitched is diminished after Tommy John Surgery. However, this could be as a result of many of these pitchers becoming relievers, or this could just be the average diminish in innings throughout the duration of any pitcher’s career.

In addition, a common myth in baseball is that the fastball velocity after UCL reconstruction increases. That is not true. In fact, the average fastball velocity drops from 91.3 mph to 90.6 mph. Velocity for curve balls, change ups and sliders did not change after UCL reconstruction.

Therefore, although Matt Harvey’s agent’s request may have not been a very popular one at the cusp of the Mets’ first post season in 15 years, it is an understandable one. After all, his priority is preserving his client’s future.

The Mets’ decision to yield, by limiting Harvey’s innings during the remainder of the regular season, may have not been necessary, but the alternative is a risk too great to take. The Mets need Harvey for the playoffs and many years to come.

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