As our own Jeff Schafer reported just a few days ago, Atlanta has decided to give Jonny Venters another go in a Braves’ uniform. Venters was arbitration eligible, and so the Braves had to either non-tender (not offer a contract) the ace reliever, or at least pay him according to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Under the current CBA, the Braves had to pay him at least 80% of what he was paid last year, or non-tender him. Obviously, the Braves value Venters, because they offered him $1.625 million (the same amount as he was paid last year), and decided to give the reliever one more chance, at least, to deliver his late-relief magic. With two TJ surgeries, which I’ll discuss in a moment, he was probably overjoyed to get that.
Jonny said as much when he was given another year’s opportunity as a Braves…
I’m pumped to be sticking around.
I’m torn. On the one hand, I love that the Atlanta Braves decided to bring Jonny Venters back for another year. As Jeff pointed out in his article…
Jonny broke onto the stage in 2010 at the age of 25-years-old with a 1.95 ERA 93 K’s and a WHIP of 1.205 in 79 game appearances. Then in 2011, he backed those numbers up with 85 games 1.84 ERA 96 K’s a WHIP of 1.091 and a 6-2 record with five saves. He made his first All Star game in 2011.
On the other hand, it’s hard to forget 2012 for Venters. In 2012, Venter’s elbow issue apparently began to resurface. In 66 appearances as a reliever, his ERA ballooned to 3.22, he gave up 6 homers in relief work, and his WHIP shot up to 1.517. He still pitched relatively well, but it became apparent that Jonny was not Jonny any longer.
Remember that Venters has now had to have two Tommy John surgeries for his ailing elbow. Venters first had TJ surgery in 2005 while playing Class A ball. Jonny had his second surgery this past May after suffering from what was reportedly just a sprained elbow. It became obvious soon that a 2nd TJ would be needed.
In a piece I wrote back in September, I mentioned a fascinating article by Will Carroll, Sports Injuries Lead Writer for the Bleacher Report, back in July of this year. I found the following excerpt from Carroll’s article particularly interesting as it may apply to Venters:
Research I did in 2006 led me to the concept of the ‘Tommy John honeymoon’. I found that five years after surgery, there were very few additional elbow problems, which indicated the transplanted ligament was stronger. Further research showed that the process called ligamentization was at work. However, after the five-year period, the tendon becomes a normal ligament, subject to the same kind of overuse injuries. With so many pitchers getting a first surgery, often when they’re quite young, there’s a greater chance a second surgery will be necessary.
To the degree that Carroll’s research is correct, it may explain why Venters had to have the 2nd TJ. The question I asked back in September though, is still relevant now after the Braves decided to renew Venters for another season: With a 2nd TJ surgery, and obvious questions about whether Venters can turn things around, was giving Venters another chance a smart move by the Braves?
There may be other examples of pitchers that have undergone two TJ surgeries and came back strong, but there are not many glaring examples. Chris Capuano is the only pitcher that my earlier research found who had two surgeries, and bounced back strong. Granted, there may be others, but there are not a ton of examples, and not enough of a sample to warrant in my mind taking such a risk. As a reliever, if the Braves ease Venters back slowly, don’t overuse him, then he has a chance. I’m just not sure, even at the low cost he re-signed for, that it was a risk I’d be willing to take.
Mark Bowman reported that Jonny is hoping to be back in the saddle by April or May of 2014, but as others have already said, if the Braves are smart they’ll give Jonny a bit more time before pushing him – perhaps June or July.
My gut tells me that the Braves’ will overuse him, as I personally believe they have done in the past. I realize there will always be a huge debate about what constitutes overuse, but after two TJ surgeries, a bit more care is certainly called for.
My hope is that Venters does bounce back to the form he displayed in 2010-11, but that is a big IF at this point, and a risk that we can only hope pays off for the Braves. I wish only the best for Jonny, but I hope the Braves giving him another chance won’t come back to haunt either of them. Even at a small price, could the Braves have used that $1.625 mil a bit more wisely? What’s your take?