On August 23rd, 2022, Los Angeles Dodgers’ starting pitcher Walker Buehler, 28, underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time – he first had the surgery in 2015 as a 20-year-old. The star pitcher will not only be out the rest of the 2022 season, but most of 2023 as well.
Buehler was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round (24th overall) of the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt University. He made his major league debut on September 7, 2017 and last pitched on June 10, 2022 – which is when he started to experience elbow discomfort in his right arm.
In 115 games played and 106 games started, Buehler has a 46-16 record with a 3.02 ERA and 690 strikeouts. He has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since his debut and while we won’t see him for a while, he will be back and will likely be stronger than ever – so watch out!
Other Pitchers Who Had Tommy John Surgery
Before September 25, 1974, there was no such thing as Tommy John surgery. That all changed when Dr. Frank Jobe operated on none other than Tommy John himself – reconstructing the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. He had a one in 100 chance of ever pitching again.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, John returned to the MLB almost two years later and pitched for another 14 seasons in the majors. He retired in 1989 with a 288-231 win-loss record, 3.34 career ERA, and 2,245 career strikeouts. He amassed 20 wins in three seasons.
Since that legendary surgery back in 1974, more than 1,000 professional pitchers have had successful Tommy John surgery – giving many a second chance at furthering their careers in the greatest baseball in the world. Let’s take a look at 20 of the most memorable comebacks.
20. C.J. Wilson
C.J. Wilson had Tommy John surgery on August 12, 2003 while in the Double-A. He missed the rest of the 2003 season and the entire 2004 season. He eventually made his MLB debut with the Texas Rangers on June 10, 2005 and went on to have an 11-year career in the majors.
His career didn’t start well, going just 12-20 over the next five seasons. He had a breakout year in 2010, going 15-8 with 170 strikeouts, and followed that up with a 16-7 year in 2011. He retired in 2015 with a 94-70 career record, 3.74 ERA, and 1,259 strikeouts in 444 games played.
19. A.J. Burnett
A.J. Burnett made his major league debut on August 17, 1999 with the Florida Marlins. He went 30-30 in 76 starts over his first four seasons in the MLB, but was limited to just four games in 2003 after having Tommy John surgery. He returned in June 2004, going 7-6 in 19 starts.
Between 2005 and 2013, Burnett tallied at least 10 wins each season and had a career-high 231 strikeouts in 2008. He retired in 2015 with a 164-147 career record, 3.99 ERA, and 2,513 strikeouts. He was an All-Star in 2015 and won the World Series with the Yankees in 2009.
18. Matt Harvey
Matt Harvey made his major league debut on July 26, 2012 with the New York Mets. He had a 3-5 record with 70 strikeouts in 10 starts during his rookie year and followed that up with a 9-5 record with 191 strikeouts in a 2013 campaign that was cut short due to Tommy John surgery.
He went on to miss the entire 2014 season, but returned in 2015 – posting a career-best 13-8 record with 188 strikeouts in 29 starts. While he still pitches in the minor leagues, he posted just a 6-14 record with the Orioles in 2021 and his career has been riddled by injuries since 2015.
17. Jordan Zimmerman
Jordan Zimmerman made his major league debut with the Washington Nationals on April 20, 2009. He started 16 games that season, posting a 3-5 record, 4.63 ERA, and 92 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he found himself needing Tommy John surgery towards the end of the season.
He returned to the team in August 2010, nearly 12 months after being diagnosed with the UCL tear. He originally struggled, but had a four-year stretch between 2012 and 2015 where he had a 58-32 record. He retired last year with a career 95-91 record, 4.07 ERA, and 1,271 strikeouts.
16. Jose Fernandez
Jose Fernandez made his major league debut on April 7, 2013 with the Miami Marlins. In 28 starts as a rookie, he posted a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, and 187 strikeouts – establishing himself as one of the best new pitchers in the league. He started 2014 with a 4-2 record in eight starts.
Unfortunately, his 2014 campaign was cut short after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2015 and went 26-11 over the next three seasons – including a 16-8 record and 253 strikeouts in 2016. He unfortunately passed away in a boating crash on September 25, 2016.
15. Chris Carpenter
Chris Carpenter dealt with a number of shoulder and elbow injuries throughout his career. He had shoulder surgery in 2002, which kept him out most of the 2002 season and all of the 2013 season. He returned in 2004 and had an impressive 51-18 record over the next three seasons.
Unfortunately, his injury problems persisted and he eventually needed Tommy John surgery in 2007. He returned in 2019 and had an impressive 44-20 record over the next three years. He retired in 2012 with a 144-94 career record, despite the onslaught of injuries he endured.
14. Francisco Liriano
Francisco Liriano made his major league debut on September 5, 2005 and became a regular starter in 2006. He played in 28 games as a rookie, going 12-3 in 16 starts and throwing for 144 strikeouts. Unfortunately, he needed Tommy John surgery towards the end of his rookie year.
After missing the entire 2007 season, he returned in 2008 and went 6-4 in 14 starts with the Minnesota Twins. He went on to enjoy a 14-year career in the majors, posting a 112-114 record, 4.15 ERA, and 1,815 strikeouts in 1,813.2 innings pitched. He also won the 2017 World Series.
13. Tim Hudson
Tim Hudson made his major league debut on June 8, 1999 and made an immediate impact on the league. He had at least 10 wins in each of his first 10 seasons in the majors, but only had more than 10 losses in two seasons over that same span. He was a force to be reckoned with.
Things took a major turn towards the end of the 2008 season, when it was revealed that he needed Tommy John surgery. He returned late in the 2009 season and looked like his former self. He spent six more seasons in the league and retired in 2015 with a career 222-133 record.
12. Billy Wagner
Billy Wagner made his major league debut on September 13, 1995 with the Houston Astros. Over the next nine seasons, he had a 26-29 record as a relief pitcher, throwing a 2.53 ERA and 694 strikeouts in 504.1 innings pitched. He spent the next four years with the Mets and Phillies.
Towards the end of the 2008 campaign, while with the Mets, Wagner opted to have Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2009 and played 17 games for the Mets and Red Sox. He had a career year in 2010, posting a 7-2 record and 104 strikeouts in 71 games before retiring at year’s end.
11. Joakim Soria
Joakim Soria made his major league debut on April 4, 2007 with the Kansas City Royals and things were going very well for him – pitching at least 60.0 innings in four of his first five seasons in the bullpen. Things took a turn for the worse when he had Tommy John surgery in early 2012.
After missing the entire 2013 season, Soria played 26 games in 2013 with a new team – the Texas Rangers. Between 2014 and 2021, he bounced around and played for eight different teams. He announced his retirement at the end of last season after 14 years in the majors.
10. Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson made his major league debut on September 10, 2005 with the Florida Marlins and became a regular starter in 2006 – posting a 12-7 record and 133 strikeouts in 24 starts. After just four games into the 2007 season, Johnson had to have Tommy John surgery.
He missed practically the entire 2007 season, but returned in the middle of the 2008 campaign – going 7-1 in 14 starts with the Marlins. He continued his hot streak, going 26-11 over the next two seasons. Injuries started hindering his production and he eventually retired in 2013.
9. David Wells
David Wells opted to have Tommy John surgery in 1985 – two years before making his major league debut on June 30, 1987 with the Toronto Blue Jays. He became a regular starter by 1990 and went 26-16 in his first two seasons as a starter. Apparently, the surgery helped.
Between 1995 and 2005, Wells posted a 164-90 record with the Tigers, Reds, Orioles, Yankees, Blue Jays, White Sox, Padres, and Red Sox – he won everywhere he went. He retired in 2007 with a career 239-157 record, 4.13 ERA, and 2,201 strikeouts in 3,439.0 innings pitched.
8. Eric Gagne
Eric Gagne opted to have Tommy John surgery in 1997, nearly two years before making his major league debut on September 7, 1999 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was a relief pitcher until becoming the team’s closer in 2002 – where he really started to turn heads.
Gagne earned 152 saves in his first three seasons as full-time closer – winning a Cy Young award in 2003. Things took a turn for the worse in 2005, when injuries started to derail his career. He played sporadically over the next three years, but eventually retired in 2008.
7. John Smoltz
John Smoltz made his major league debut on July 23, 1988 with the Atlanta Braves. Over his first 12 seasons in the MLB, he finished with at least 11 wins 10 different times – including a career-high 24 wins in 1996. During that time, he was a four-time All-Star and Cy Young winner.
Before the start of the 2000 season, Smoltz had Tommy John surgery – keeping him out until 2001. He was moved to a reliever and spent three years as the team’s closer – recording 144 saves. He returned to starter and went 44-24 over the next three years before retiring in 2009.
6. Seunghwan Oh
Seunghwan Oh had Tommy John surgery in 2001 while at Dankook University, causing him to miss the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Between 2005 and 2015, Oh played in the South Korean KBO League and the Nippon Professional Baseball league. He was a seven-time KBO All-Star.
Oh eventually made his major league debut on April 3, 2016 with the St. Louis Cardinals. Over the next four seasons, he posted a 16-13 record with 42 saves and 252 strikeouts in 232 games played. Since 2019, he has returned to the KBO League – where he began his pro career.
5. Rich Hill
Rich Hill made his major league debut on June 15, 2005 and showed promise as a starting pitcher – especially after a 2007 campaign that saw him go 11-8 in 32 starts with the Cubs. He spent the 2009 season with Baltimore before signing a minor league deal with Boston in 2010.
After nine games with the Red Sox in 2011, Hill required Tommy John surgery – causing him to miss the rest of the season. He didn’t regain a starting role in the MLB until 2015 and posted a 35-18 record between 2016 and 2018. He’s currently a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.
4. Adam Wainwright
Adam Wainwright made his major league debut on September 11, 2005 and became a regular starter for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007. Over the next four seasons, Wainwright posted a 64-34 record – including a 19-8 record in 2009 and a 20-11 record in 2010. He was on fire.
Unfortunately, he had to miss the entire 2011 season due to Tommy John surgery. Over the past 11 seasons, he has had seven seasons of at least 12 wins, including 19 in 2013, 20 in 2012, and 17 in 2021 (last season). He’s currently 9-9 in 26 starts this season with the Cardinals.
3. Jonny Venters
Jonny Venters opted to undergo Tommy John surgery in late 2005 while in the minors, causing him to miss the entire 2006 season. He eventually recovered and later made his major league debut on April 17, 2010 with the Atlanta Braves. He pitched in 79 games as a rookie in 2010.
2011 was a storied year for the relief pitcher, leading the league with 85 games played, finishing with a 6-2 record, and posting just a 1.84 ERA. Unfortunately, Venters had to undergo Tommy John surgery a second time in 2013 and third time in 2014. He almost needed it again in 2016.
2. Stephen Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut on June 8, 2010 as one of the most hyped prospects of all-time. He went 5-3 in 12 starts as a rookie in 2010, but his campaign was cut short after he had Tommy John surgery. He didn’t return to the team until September 2011.
Strasburg returned to form in 2012, posting a 15-6 record in 28 starts. After an 8-9 record in 2013, he posted at least 10 wins in each of the next six seasons – including an 18-6 record in 2019. He has only made eight starts in the past three seasons due to a variety of injuries.
1. Jacob deGrom
Jacob deGrom was drafted by the New York Mets in 2010, but things took a turn for the worse when he needed Tommy John surgery after just six minor league starts. He missed the entire 2011 season, but started to make a name for himself over the next three years in the minors.
deGrom finally made his major league debut on May 15, 2014 and had a 66-49 record over the next six seasons. He has only made 32 starts in the past three years, largely due to shoulder and elbow injuries, but recently made his 2022 debut on August 2nd and has a 3-1 record since.
Let’s Hope No One Else Needs Tommy John Surgery
Tommy John surgery is something that’s becoming far too common among pitchers today. Walker Buehler was just one of the nine pitchers that have had the surgery in 2022 alone – four of which came in the month of June. There was also an infielder that had the surgery in 2022.
It’s continuing an unfortunate trend, with 15 pitchers and one infielder having Tommy John surgery in 2021 – and another 15 pitchers in 2020. It doesn’t matter whether they pitch with their right arm or left arm, pitchers are at an increased risk of tearing their ulnar collateral ligament.
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While we sincerely hope no one has to undergo Tommy John surgery, it is a part of the game and is inevitable for some. Don’t worry, recent advancements in technology and practice make Tommy John surgery a safe and effective procedure for pitchers interested in pitching again.
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