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As you have probably heard, Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow has a partially torn right ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor tender strain in the same arm. There’s no determination yet as to whether Glasnow will have Tommy John surgery, and because of where we are on the calendar, he has the flexibility to wait to see if therapy will help. Surgery now or surgery in two months both leave him losing most or all of the 2022 season.
This is a blow to Glasnow, who since being traded to the Rays in 2018 has a 3.10 ERA in 48 starts. Glasnow has a 2.66 ERA with a 36% strikeout rate so far this year in 14 starts. He’s established himself as having the skill set of a #1 starter, with the question being whether he could hold up in the role. Glasnow, now in his sixth year in the league, has never thrown more than 111 innings in an MLB season.
In his newsletter, Will Carroll laid out one potential plan Glasnow and the Rays could implement:
“I am told the Rays are exploring the idea of repair, but are reluctant to be one of the first elite level athletes to do so. It has been done in high level college and at least once in MLB (Seth Maness), but the InternalBrace technique is still new and surgeons are very picky about who qualifies for this. With Dr. James Andrews as medical director and his partner Dr. Jeff Dugas one of the leaders in this kind of repair, it’s a possibility. A repair would significantly cut down on healing time, though at nine months for the single admitted case, it shouldn’t be that significant over what should be a year, though others have come back in a much shorter time.”
The Rays were counting on Glasnow after a winter in which they let Charlie Morton leave and traded away Blake Snell -- both moves that have looked pretty good so far. The Rays continually integrate exciting young starters, like Rich Hi...I mean, like Shane McClanahan, and we will probably see Shane Baz before long. None of these pitchers, though, bring the potential for seven shutout innings to the mound every night the way Glasnow does. This injury, if it does lead to surgery, closes the gap between the Rays and the three teams chasing them in the AL East, probably by two wins.
I hate that I have to circle back to this again, but Glasnow becomes the latest starting pitcher to blow out while pushing the upper bounds of velocity. Since he became a full-time starter in 2019, Glasnow has averaged 96.2 mph with his four-seam fastball, and was at 97 mph in his 80 innings this year. The following chart will be all too familiar to long-time readers. I have lowered the innings threshold to 300 to include Glasnow, who has 403 career innings in total, but just 335 as a starter.
The Demon, Longform (top SP FBv, 2002-2021, min. 300 IP)
Noah Syndergaard 97.6 2020
Luis Severino 97.1 2020
Luis Castillo 96.6
Yordano Ventura 96.5
Walker Buehler 96.3 2015
Tyler Glasnow 96.2 2021?
Gerrit Cole 96.2
Nathan Eovaldi 96.1 2016
Sandy Alcantara 96.1
Brandon Woodruff 96.0
Zack Wheeler 95.7 2015
Jacob deGrom 95.4 2010
Garrett Richards 95.4 2018
Mike Foltynewicz 95.4
Reynaldo Lopez 95.4
James Paxton 95.3 2021
Michael Fulmer 95.3 2019
Mind you, the 300 innings threshold leaves off an awful lot of names. If we just look at the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in a given season...
The Demon, Blogform (top SP FBv in a season, 2002-2021, min. 40 IP)
Jacob deGrom 2021 99.2 2010
Jacob deGrom 2020 98.6 2010
Dustin May 2020 98.0 2021
Noah Syndergaard 2016 97.9 2020
Ryne Stanek 2018 97.8*
Noah Syndergaard 2019 97.7 2020
Luis Severino 2018 97.6 2020
Luis Severino 2017 97.6 2020
Sandy Alcantara 2021 97.5
Dylan Cease 2020 97.5 2014
Luis Castillo 2020 97.5
Luis Castillo 2017 97.5
Noah Syndergaard 2018 97.4 2020
Ryne Stanek 2019 97.4*
Nathan Eovaldi 2020 97.4 2016
Gerrit Cole 2021 97.4
Nathan Eovaldi 2019 97.3 2016
Stephen Strasburg 2010 97.3 2010
Zack Wheeler 2021 97.2 2015
That’s a long list. If I keep going, it’s more Nathan Eovaldi and Noah Syndergaard seasons. Dinelson Lamet’s name comes up. Glasnow. Yordano Ventura, who had elbow issues prior to his untimely death. James Paxton. Shohei Ohtani in 2018. (Ryne Stanek’s presence here is misleading, as he was a reliever being used to start games as an opener, rather than someone carrying a starter’s workload.)
Fastball velocity is a proxy for something we can’t measure, the stress placed on the ulnar collateral ligament by the act of pitching. What is clear, though, is that no starting pitcher lasts very long pushing the bounds of velocity. Some, having had their UCL repaired, seem to be able to survive throwing this hard -- deGrom is the best current example (for the moment), having had the surgery in 2010 just as his pro career was getting underway. Eovaldi, Walker Buehler, and Zack Wheeler are similar cases.
We select pitchers for velocity at almost every level, and given the caliber of hitters in today’s game, asking pitchers to go at much less than 100% is a recipe for runs. The hardest-throwing starters in baseball almost all get hurt, though, with Tyler Glasnow just the latest example. It’s awful, as a fan, to keep seeing these bright young stars have years carved out of their career. I don’t know what the answer is; I just know that the relationship between maximum velocity and a date with a surgeon is too strong to ignore.