Major League Baseball Pitching Performance After Tommy John Surgery and the Effect of Tear Characteristics, Technique, and Graft Type.

Background

Return to play and player satisfaction have been quite high after ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (UCLR); however, there has been little reported on how outcomes are affected by surgical technique, graft type, and tear characteristics.

Purpose

To evaluate surgical techniques, graft type, and tear characteristics on Major League Baseball (MLB) performance after UCLR.

Study Design

Cohort study; Level of evidence, 2.

Methods

MLB pitchers who underwent primary UCLR at a single institution were included. Tear characteristics included tear location, tear grade, and acuity. Surgical technique and graft type were also collected. Pitching performance statistics, including earned run average (ERA), walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP), innings pitched, and fastball velocity were evaluated 3 years before and after UCLR.

Results

Forty-six MLB pitchers were identified as having primary UCLR. Return to play was 96%, with 82% returning to MLB play. Technique performed showed no difference in performance. As compared with pitchers with gracilis grafts, pitchers with palmaris grafts were younger ( P = .043), played longer after surgery ( P = .012), and returned to play at 100% (35 of 35) versus 82% (9 of 11, P = .010). When compared with pitchers with proximal tears, pitchers with distal tears pitched at higher velocity (93.0 vs 90.6 mph, P = .023) and had better performance before surgery (ERA, P = .003; WHIP, P = .021); however, those with proximal tears improved to match this performance and velocity after reconstruction. As compared with those having partial tears, pitchers with complete tears played longer after surgery (5.9 vs 4.0 years, P = .033), had a better ERA before injury ( P = .041), and had better WHIP ( P = .037) and strikeouts per 9 innings ( P = .025) after reconstruction. Pitchers with chronic tears had a significant improvement in postoperative ERA, from 4.49 to 3.80 ( P = .040).

Conclusion

Technique performed and graft type used did not affect performance; however, pitchers with palmaris grafts returned at a higher rate than those with gracilis grafts. Distal tears occurred in pitchers with greater velocity and better performance before injury, yet pitchers with proximal tears matched this performance after reconstruction. Pitchers with complete tears played longer after reconstruction. Pitchers who had partial tears had worse performance before injury and after reconstruction, and those with chronic tears saw a significant improvement in ERA with reconstruction.