The New York Mets' maybe-someday-we-hope other ace, Zack Wheeler, was diagnosed with a complete tear of his ulnar collateral ligament this week. He will have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2015 season. The loss of Wheeler, while good news for Dillon Gee, is bad news for Mets fans, particularly as it comes on the heels of losing Matt Harvey to the exact same injury and surgery for all of 2014. It's deja vu all over again for the orange and blue.
Over on Metsblog, Matt Cerrone wonders if an organizational strategy is to blame. He cites the fact that, since 2005, Mets' pitchers have had more Tommy John surgeries than all but three other Major League clubs (the Dodgers, Rangers and Braves). And since it is fashionable among Mets' fans to blame the team's management and ownership for everything, we are all too happy to oblige. It's Dan Warthen's fault. It's Sandy Alderson's fault. It's Rick Peterson's fault. DIE WILPONS DIE.
Unfortunately for the pitchfork-wielding fanbase, there is no evidence at all that the Mets as an organization are doing anything that increases the risk of their pitchers needing Tommy John surgery — it sure just looks like a string of bad luck for a team that specializes in breaking mirrors and walking under ladders. (And, naturally, it was on Friday the 13th when Sandy Alderson announced that Wheeler was skipping his start the next day to have an MRI on a sore elbow.)
But even if the Mets are doing something as an organization to increase the frequency with which their pitchers go under the knife, is it possible that this is a good thing? The research on individual pitching performance after surgery is mixed, but most studies (among those located in a completely unscientific literature review performed by me, via Google, in the last 90 seconds) appear to suggest no statistically significant decline in a pitcher's performance following Tommy John surgery. And there is anecdotal evidence that some individuals perform better following the procedure. But, there does not appear to be any research indicating whether an organization-wide emphasis on Tommy John surgery adds wins.
So, I compared the data that Cerrone provides in the Metsblog piece (which was taken from the admittedly dubious source of some guy) with the total number of wins for each Major League team since 2005 (obtained from the hopefully more reliable baseball-reference.com). A simple liner regression performed using MS-Excel reveals a slight, positive correlation (.327) between the number of Tommy John surgeries performed on a team's pitchers and the average number of wins for that team since 2005. I can't remember how to calculate the statistical significance of correlations, and even if I could I doubt this slight correlation would be statistically significant.
But, nevertheless, I don't think it's crazy to speculate that a team with more pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgeries would have more wins in the long term. Such teams have more experience and thus more expertise overseeing a pitcher's return from the procedure, making it more likely that their pitchers are the ones who return to form or even improve on it. At a minimum, there is no evidence at all that increased frequency of Tommy John surgery negatively impacts a team's ability to win games.
So let's put down the pitchforks. The Mets don't need a new general manager, they don't need a new manager, they don't need a new pitching coach, and the owners aren't going anywhere. What they need is a left fielder who can hit 35 home runs, a shortstop, a left-handed reliever, and a little bit of luck.