Atlanta Braves’ fans were pumped when the news broke that Brandon Beachy was finally going to return to the starting rotation. Fully ready or not to return to that role, it became a necessity when Tim Hudson suffered a fractured ankle, and Paul Maholm went on the DL. Because of the way that Beachy performed before the injury that led to the need for Tommy John surgery, some fans may have expected him to return to the lineup with that same form. He still may, because some have returned from TJ surgery and picked up almost from where they left off. Others have struggled. What happens with Brandon Beach remains to be seen, but you have to wonder if his first outing was a sign of things to come.
In 2011, Brandon Beachy started 25 games and finished the year 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.207 WHIP. He averaged 10.7 SOs per 9 innings while walking an average of just 2.9 per 9, and giving up an average of just 1 HR per 9. A relative rookie that year, Beachy showed the kind of pitching chops that would be just an introduction to the kind of prowess he would show the following year. In 2012, Beachy was stellar, finishing that year just 5-5, but with an amazing 2.00 ERA and a 0.963 WHIP. Granted, Beachy only pitched for two and a half months and 13 starts in the 2012 season before his elbow injury, but he was clearly proving himself to be Atlanta’s future ace.
Well, you know the rest of the story – the injury, the rehab, the setback with tendinitis, and of course you also know what happened when Brandon finally did return to the starting rotation. On July 29, in Beachy’s start against the Colorado Rockies, he went just 3.2 innings before being pulled by manager, Fredi Gonzalez. In just over three innings, Beachy gave up 7 earned runs on 8 hits with a whopping 17.18 ERA. The shaky outing by Beachy, ugly as it appeared, wasn’t all bad. Although Beachy allowed two long balls, he only gave up 1 walk in those 3.2 innings, and struck out 5. My eye test on Beachy showed me someone who was still able to deliver good pitches with good form, but who had trouble with spot command. In short, he was throwing hard, but throwing too many pitches right down the middle.
Watching my Twitter timeline all night during the game, I was amazed at the number of negative tweets, the almost palpable sense of disappointment among fans with Beachy’s less than stellar outing. I hoped he might have a better outing as well, but what Brandon Beachy did (or did not do) should not have been unexpected. Some return from TJ surgery with a wow factor out of the gate, and others struggle, but the struggling part is a more common outcome than some of you might think. I want to give some examples in this article of pitchers who underwent the now common procedure, and show that what Beachy did (or did not do) was nothing to be upset about, just yet anyway.
Smoltzie was a dominant pitcher throughout the majority of his career, and should definitely be Cooperstown bound, but younger fans may not remember that he wasn’t always a starting pitcher. From 1988 to 1999, John Smoltz won an amazing 157 games for the Atlanta Braves, recording just under 2100 strikeouts, and being named the 1996 Cy Young Award Winner. In 2000 however, Smoltzie was injured and had to undergo TJ surgery. He returned to the big club on May 17, 2001 as a starter, but only made five starts before being moved to the bullpen. As you can see from his numbers in those five starts, a starting role was clearly not in the cards for a guy who had been such a dominate pitcher pre-TJ.
Of course his immediate struggles after coming back from TJ surgery didn’t stop John Smoltz from remaining a successful pitcher, and actually going on to become a starter again. Smoltz stayed in the bullpen for the next four seasons, and became as dominant a relief pitcher as he had been a starter. In those four seasons, Smotz led the league in 2002 with 55 saves, and saved 154 games overall for the Braves from 2001 to 2004. Smoltzie returned to the starting rotation in 2005, and although he struggled the last couple years before his retirement in 2009, John Smoltz was one of the most successful pitchers to ever pitch the majors.
Many forget that Tim Hudson also underwent TJ surgery. Tim had the surgery on August 8, 2008. Before his injury, Tim Hudson had an outstanding record of 146-77, averaging around 200 innings pitched between 1999 and 2008, and led the league with 20 wins in 2000. Tim returned to a starter role on September 1, 2009 and made seven starts for the Atlanta Braves before the close of the season, and pitched pretty well. See the numbers below:
Tim actually bounced back pretty quickly, and went on the following season to put up amazing numbers in 2010. He won 17 games with a mere 2.83 ERA, and earned the NL Comeback Player of the Year award.
As a rookie for the Minnesota Twins in 2006, Liriano was impressive! He stormed out of the gate posting a 12-3 season with a low 2.16 ERA combined with 144 Ks in just 121 innings pitched. Liriano was done by September of that same year though, underwent TJ surgery a couple of months later, and missed the entire 2007 season. He returned as a starter for the Twins at the beginning of the 2008 season, but struggled, and after just 3 starts was sent down to the minors. Liriano returned as a major league starter and found some of his old prowess, but he has never (well almost never) been quite the same pitcher he looked to be his rookie season. I said “almost never” because Liriano is having a great 2013 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Does that signal a turnaround after five years? Some of his numbers….
These of course are just a few examples. You all know how well Kris Medlen has performed at times after coming back from TJ surgery, but you also know that he needed bullpen time to get back to form, and you know about his struggles this season. If space allowed, we could look at a number of pitchers over the years who have undergone the dreaded (and sometimes miraculous) elbow fix – A.J. Burnett, Josh Johnson, Edinson Volquez, Adam Wainright, etc. Most have performed well out of the gate, or at least within a few months, but some have struggled and continue to struggle. The point is that the jury is always out until there is enough of a sample size to make such a determination. Brandon Beachy? His first outing with the Atlanta Braves was scary bad, but how will he fare tonight? Only time will tell, but my hope is that Beachy will be more like a Jaime Garcia after TJ and less like a Liriano.