Patrick Sandoval's Tommy John surgery raises more concerns with injury spike

Baseball needs to do something about its Tommy John problem.
Patrick Sandoval to have Tommy John Surgery
Patrick Sandoval to have Tommy John Surgery / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

The 2024 season marked the 50th anniversary of the infamous “Tommy John” procedure. We are nearing the 3,000 mark of the number of surgeries since its inception.

Los Angeles Angels starter Patrick Sandoval tore his UCL and just underwent the surgery, which will end his season and most likely cost him next year. It's the harsh reality, but you have to trade your starters that are key deadline targets as soon as you know you are out of it, because then this stuff happens. They better get cracking with Tyler Anderson, that's all we're saying.

But this raises a bigger question. Why are these surgeries happening more frequently as the years progress? We’ve heard the pitch clock excuse, to the lack of six-man rotations. But what about Nolan Ryan? He never needed the surgery and he threw plenty of complete games in his life.

Here are some of the key points for Angels fans, and especially ones younger Angels fans should know.

Coaching and Parents

From a young age, kids are taught a certain way to pitch, especially since there are now trainers that work specifically on this. There aren’t finesse pitchers like Greg Maddux anymore. Maddux, up there with the best of all time, averaged less than 86 mph on his fastball. That is now the average (or even below average speed) of a changeup in 2024.

Secondly, kids don’t want to learn how to pitch a way that may not be as pretty but would be better for them over the long haul. Former Angels World Series legend John Lackey had to cock his arms over his head before he delivered. That was used to keep him balanced and able to control the pitch. I have coached 10 years of youth baseball and no kid has ever even heard of a windup. They roll their eyes when we go over balance drills.

“My travel coach told me to pitch this way, so that’s how I’m going to pitch,” one of my players said. He ended up throwing three wild pitches in the championship game and we got walked off. How’s that training looking now parents?

Velocity, spin rate, and strikeouts are all that matter to parents, coaches, and players nowadays. Jered Weaver did a pretty good job when he threw his no-hitter, don’t you think? His fastball barely touched 90 in his prime. Parents and coaches need to go through training to know how to help their kid reach their potential ... and no, that doesn’t mean to throw it as hard as you can.

Travel Ball

Twenty years ago, there were very few programs that offered travel baseball. In 2024, there's a travel program in almost every county in the country it seems. USSSA and Perfect Game usually run these leagues at the top. We understand the idea of when it first started. They wanted to create an extremely competitive atmosphere to see how the best prospects could handle it.

Now, it’s a billion dollar business. Perfect Game alone made $114.4 million just out of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area, which isn't exactly a hot bed for talent. Merchandise, television, and streaming channels are being added to this. According to the ABCA, The average 10-year-old travel baseball player has four games in two days on the weekends, plus practice 2-3 times a week. That does not include traveling around your state, to regional competitions or national competitions. This was eight years ago when the article was written. From personal knowledge, some kids play three games in a day. I will give you this, there are some darn good coaches in travel who give a big portion of their lives to help these players.

But with the rise in these elbow injuries, the baseball community is now using Tommy John surgery to get better and faster, thinking it actually strengthens the joint earlier, according to CBS News. A parent who consents to that for their child really isn't paying close enough attention.

Too many games, not enough coaching

Yes, you have Spring Training and team workouts over February and March in Major League Baseball, but you cannot expect even the best of the best to keep it up for long. That’s why fans loved the hiring of Ron Washington this season. You see his videos all the time. He gets out there at 7 a.m. to work with his players on fundamentals. After Spring ends, there's little for practice with six or seven games a week. Baseball is the only sport with this amount of workload.

How can these issues be fixed?

For one, the season should go into mid-November. Having a season from late March to mid-November gives a little more breathing room. Secondly, the number of games need to drop down to 140 from 162, and 130 on Olympic years so players can participate for their country. That boosts morale in each player to represent their country.

There also needs to be a division realignment. There is no difference between AL and NL rules anymore, so why not cut down on the travel for each team, at least in their own division? For example, a “Southern Division” could include the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies. The state of California, as constructed now, would have enough for their own division. It really comes down to the little things. The last thing is to do away with the All-Star Weekend and replace it with the WBC or Olympics every year. Keep them in their usual spots, but it would be great for players, especially those who carry their teams, to have a break, and more practice time.

We're not trying to fix baseball for the heck of it. Injuries like Sandoval’s could have been avoided. Finally, perhaps the most obvious fix, is the focus on executing two or three pitches max, and locating them. Some pitchers have six or seven offerings. The fastball and changeup combination is still the nastiest mix and it puts the least strain on one's arm.

MLB players are developing in many ways. They need instruction and days off to avoid burnout. If you do this, maybe we won’t have the “Dog Days of August” anymore.