Tempering the Excitement on Erik Bedard


Harrison’s post the other day on Erik Bedard got me thinking. Just how excited should we be that he’s healthy and throwing pain free? That lead me to do a little research into pitchers who have had surgery to fix a torn labrum. Unfortunately there’s a trend, and it’s not a good one.

One of the first pitcher I came across in my search was Robb Nen. It’s fair to say that relief pitchers like Nen who manage a 3 WAR or higher are quite rare. So I’d imagine that even a Nen who was 75% of his former self would have been a faily successful pitcher and would have have managed to find a job, and yet Nen never pitched again after his 2002 Labrum injury.

Paul Wilson, the Red’s opening day starter in 2005, had surgery in May of that year and never pitched in the majors again. Jim Parque was a 3 WAR pitcher before his Labrum injury, and returned as a below replacement level pitcher.

According to Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, of the 36 MLB pitchers who had surgery for a torn labrum between 1999 and 2004 only 1 returned to his previous level. He concluded that “if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they’d be destroyed;” a pretty clear statement about his opinion on the matter.

The M’s have a history with this injury as well, as it’s cost them two of their most promising young pitchers. The most depressing of these is easily “the little unit” Ryan Anderson, who  was supposed to make everyone in Seattle think the team had found a way to clone Randy Johnson. Instead he tore his labrum in 2002 and has never pitched again. Bobby Madritsch, the best pitcher on the M’s staff during that dismal 2004 season, tore his labrum in the spring before the 2005 season and has never returned to the majors, though he continues to try.

There are a couple success stories that I came across in my search. Former Seattle pitcher Gil Meche was able to come back from a torn labrum and have great success, though he never did realize the potential he showed before his injury. There’s also Rocky Biddle, a replacement level reliever who managed to completely return to his fairly mediocre pre-surgery level. Oh, I should add that Biddle was the 1 player Carroll referred to in study who came back from his injury. Yes, you read that right. The 1 pitcher out of 36 who completely returned from labrum surgery was a replacement level reliever.

Perhaps I am simply refusing to accept that Bedard is fully recovered. Perhaps the last 3 seasons of the “Bedard injury watch” has me jaded to the prospect that he’ll ever return to the form he once had with Baltimore. Perhaps… but after doing the research I’ve presented in this post, I don’t think it matters…

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