Understandably, "Tommy John surgery" continues to stand as a cuss phrase of sorts among baseball fans. It's a strange procedure, to be sure -- they cut you open, take a ligament out of your body, and put it somewhere else in your body, after which you're out of action for months. Now that Stephen Strasburg, the most highly-regarded rookie in baseball history, appears likely to have Tommy John surgery, it might be tempting to draw comparisons to Brien Taylor or Kerry Wood.
As Jeff Sullivan convincingly noted, many great pitchers -- John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter, etc. -- have gone on to post remarkable post-surgery numbers. For good measure, though, let's look at more success stories from pitchers who had their surgeries around Strasburg's tender age of 22.
Erik Bedard - underwent Tommy John surgery at age 23
Bedard had only two major league outs under his belt before going under the knife. He recovered fully, and would eventually finish fifth in the Cy Young voting at age 28.
Ronald Belisario - 23
Surgery slowed his progress, but Belisario broke into the major leagues at age 26 to throw a 2.04 ERA through 70.2 innings out of the bullpen.
Manny Delcarmen - 21
Delcarmen is now six years into a career as a reliever with the Red Sox.
Brian Duensing - 21
Duensing broke into the league five years after his surgery, and in 2010 he's proving to be a valuable bullpen asset.
Eric Gagne - 21
Two years after his surgery, he made it to the majors, and at age 26, he began one of the greatest three-year periods ever assembled by a reliever.
Josh Johnson - 23
Johnson's situation was a close parallel to Strasburg's. After a strong 2006, his first full season in the majors, he went under the knife. He returned to form in 2008, and in 2010, he's one of the best starters in baseball.
Hong-Chih Kuo - 19, again at 22
Kuo underwent two surgeries before his major league career even started, but this year he's posting an outstanding 1.37 ERA out of the bullpen for the Dodgers.
Francisco Liriano - 23
Liriano's story is a less rosy version of Josh Johnson's. He set the league on fire in his 2006 rookie season, then had surgery, then took three more years to come within miles of his rookie performance. Fortunately, Liriano now appears to be on the right track.
Brian Wilson - 21
Yet another pitcher who underwent Tommy John before he ever reached the majors, and yet another of these pitchers who's having a breakout year in 2010. Wilson has 35 saves and a 1.94 ERA for the Giants.
C.J. Wilson - 22
Wilson was a career reliever until the Rangers moved him to the rotation in 2010, and he's responded with a 3.02 ERA.
Kerry Wood - 21
Comparisons of Strasburg to Wood make fans shudder, but despite suffering a host of injuries that had nothing to do with his UCL, he has an above-average 3.69 ERA through twelve seasons.
So, yes, it's a bummer that Strasburg will have to miss some time, but there isn't much reason to be especially pessimistic. Tommy John surgeries are more commonplace than some realize. After all, the pitcher with the least fortunate pitcher's name (Grant Balfour) and the most fortunate pitcher's name (Josh Outman) have both went under the knife for Tommy John surgeries.