May 30, 2008 | By Alex Eisenberg
Today it was learned Oakland Athletics pitching prospect Fautino de los Santos will undergo Tommy John Surgery and be out at least a year. When this site first opened, one of my first articles gave a scouting report on de los Santos and much of the analysis was mechanically based.
As I mentioned in the article, I liked a lot of what I saw. De los Santos had a power pitcher's mechanics; aggressive, using momentum and force to his advantage and we saw that in the velocity he threw with. But when you have a power pitcher's mechanics and not necessarily the cleanest of mechanics, you are at risk for injury. In reality, any pitcher is at risk for injury, but the risk for injury is heightened when you throw with aggressive mechanics.
While we can discuss what was a likely cause of his injury (and by doing so look for ways to prevent it in the future), we need to be careful because we never actually know what causes an injury. We don't know exactly what the individual movements of a pitcher have on the pitcher's arm; we can only speculate. You have to deal with outside factors like pitch counts and whether a pitcher was overworked. We have to look at the strength of the individual tendons and muscles in a pitcher's arm because they just may not have been strong enough. Most likely there are a combination of factors causing injury.
In de los Santos' case, I would like to speculate on possible injury causes:
1. Workload - de los Santos was found in the Dominican Republic not very long ago and last year was his first in America and first as a professional player. He thew 122.1 innings last year. The general rule is that you don't want to increase a pitcher's workload by more than 50 innings each successive year. I can't say for sure, but last year was likely the most de los Santos has pitched his entire life and probably by a large amount.
2. Elbow Above the Shoulder - as de los Santos scap loaded, his elbow rose above the shoulder, which is generally thought to put more stress on the shoulder and elbow. However, this was not like the Francisco Liriano mechanics where the elbow was clearly above the shoulder.
3. Abrupt finish - I noticed he had a slightly abrupt finish after release. You want to give the arm as much room as you can to decelerate after release.
4. Aggressive mechanics - As I mentioned earlier, de los Santos has aggressive mechanics, and was therefore likely a higher injury risk.
What needs to be looked at is what adjustments de los Santos will need to make once he is ready to pitch again. The two easiest things that come to mind is to give his arm more room to decelerate and to keep his elbow at or below shoulder's height during his arm action. However, you want to make sure you don't change things so drastically where the quality of the pitcher's overall stuff becomes worse. Francisco Liriano made drastic changes to his mechanics after Tommy John and the results have been terrible thus far.
The good news for de los Santos is that Tommy John Surgery is relatively standard nowadays. Pitchers get the surgery and return to form a lot more often than they used to. In some cases, pitchers actually increase their velocity compared to how fast they threw prior to injury. So with a little luck, a lot of hard work, a regimen to increase arm strength, and a few mechanical tweaks, de los Santos should be back to form in a little more than a year and in two years, who knows, he may be even better.
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