Performance and Return to Sport After Tommy John Surgery Among Major League Baseball Position Players

Robert A. Jack, Matthew B. Burn, Kyle R. Sochacki, Patrick C. McCulloch, David M. Lintner, Joshua D. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: The anterior bundle of the medial ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is the primary restraint to valgus stress at the elbow and is often injured among overhead throwing athletes. Despite prevention strategies, injuries to the elbow UCL are on the rise. Purpose: To determine (1) the return-to-sport (RTS) rate of Major League Baseball (MLB) position players after elbow medial UCL reconstruction, (2) postoperative career length and games per season, (3) pre- and postoperative performance, (4) postoperative performance versus matched control players, and (5) whether position players changed positions after UCL reconstruction. Study Design: Cohort study; Level of evidence, 3. Methods: MLB players who underwent elbow UCL reconstruction were identified (cases). Demographic and performance data were collected for each player. Matched controls were identified. RTS in MLB was defined as playing in at least 1 MLB game after UCL reconstruction. Comparisons between case and control groups and pre- and postoperative time points were made via paired samples Student t tests. Results: Thirty-three players (34 surgical procedures) were identified with a mean ± SD age of 30.2 ± 4.2 years and a mean experience in the MLB of 6.3 ± 3.9 years at the time of surgery. Twenty-eight players (84.8%) were able to RTS in MLB at a mean 336.9 ± 121.8 days. However, players ≥30 years old demonstrated a significantly lower RTS rate (53.3%) than players <30 years old (89.4%; P <.05). Catchers had a significantly shorter postoperative career length (2.8 ± 1.8 years) versus matched controls (6.1 ± 1.9 years; P <.05). Outfielders had a significantly lower wins above replacement postoperatively (0.8 ± 0.7) versus preoperatively (1.5 ± 1.1; P <.05). There were no performance differences between cases and matched controls. Twelve players (48%) returned to a different position postoperatively. Conclusion: The RTS rate for MLB position players after elbow UCL reconstruction is similar to that of pitchers. Catchers had a significantly shorter career length than that of matched controls. Outfielders performed worse postoperatively versus preoperatively. There is a high rate of position change after Tommy John surgery for infielders and outfielders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1720-1726
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Sports Medicine
Issue number7
Early online dateMar 1 2018
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Major League Baseball
  • position players
  • return to sport
  • Tommy John surgery
  • ulnar collateral ligament

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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