Capuano Continues to Beat the Odds

Aeon All Star Series Day 5 - MLB v Japan All-Stars

Chris Capuano took another step in his comeback from a second Tommy John surgery on Friday, working a couple scoreless innings in relief.  Of course, there’s still a long way to go — his arm strength isn’t up to par, and he’s a long way off from even thinking about starting — but he’s also made a lot more progress than others in the same boat have.

We keep hearing that the list of pitchers who have continued pitching after two Tommy John surgeries is very short, and the list of those who have actually made it back to the majors is even shorter.  Who are some of these pitchers, and what kind of success did they have?  Can we look for any similarities between these past cases and Capuano?  Well, let’s take a look at the list of guys who have had at least two (some even three) operations — the other members of the “Two Tommy Johns Club.” (Click “Read More”)

Dave Eiland
The current pitching coach for the Yankees never had great success in the majors, going 12-27 with a 5.74 ERA in 373 career innings.  His last major league appearance was in 2000, but he officially called it quits in 2002 after needing a pair of Tommy John surgeries within a calendar year.  He never played in another Major League game following the second surgery.

Chad Fox (three)
Milwaukee fans are probably the more familiar with Fox than anyone else on this list, but it’s also sad that his great 2001 season was the last time he wasn’t struggling with injuries.  He pitched in only 12 games in 2004 and 11 games in 2005 before missing the entire 2006 and 2007 seasons.  He was able to come back for a few appearances in 2008, but his 2009 season ironically ended when he again injured his elbow throwing a pitch against the Brewers.  He’s currently a free agent, but at 39 years old, it looks like his career may be over.

Shawn Hill
He used to be a bright young pitching prospect for the Nationals, but underwent his first Tommy John surgery as a 24 year old and missed the 2005.  He made a strong comeback, having a surprisingly good 2007 season (16 starts, 4-5, 3.42 ERA, 123 ERA+ in 97.1 IP).  After various other injury problems, Hill underwent the second Tommy John surgery of his career last summer, just a month after signing a minor league deal with the Padres.  He’s currently in camp with the Toronto Blue Jays on a minor league deal.

Hong-Chih Kuo
The Taiwanese right-hander is a rarity in this list — both of his surgeries came before his major league career even began, in 2000 and 2003.  Despite the setbacks, Kuo still debuted with the Dodgers as a 23-year old in 2005, an has put together a pretty solid career as a reliever and spot starter (9-13, 3.77 ERA, 113 ERA+ in 205.1 career IP).  This may be the best possible outcome for Capuano, but Kuo was lucky enough to have the second surgery come when he was still so young.

Mike Lincoln
Another reliever, and another guy who probably wasn’t all that great even before he get intimately acquianted to Dr. James Andrews.  Lincoln was a fairly consistent middle reliever for the Twins, Pirates, and Cardinals from 1999 to 2004, but didn’t pitch in the majors again until 2008.  He’s currently with the Cincinnati Reds.

Scott Mathieson
Once one of the most prized prospects in the Phillies’ system, Mathieson made his MLB debut at 22 years old in 2006.  It was a rough rookie year for Mathieson, even before his season ended with his first Tommy John surgery.  Before he could even complete his comeback, he needed a second surgery in early 2008.  Mathieson is back in Phillies camp this spring, and like Capuano, is trying to win a bullpen spot.  If you’re interested in his story, there’s a good article in the Philly Enquirer that was recently published.

Jose Rijo (three)
The former Reds right hander had the procedure done so many times that by the time Andrews went in for a third surgery, there was almost no ligament in the elbow to keep his arm together.  Rijo had a great amount of success in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s before the injuries started, but things got so bad that he missed five full seasons, and went seven seasons in between big league wins.  It’s a nice story, but here’s to hoping Capuano doesn’t suffer another setback that would put him in Rijo territory.

Matt Riley (three)
Another guy who’s had three procedures done, and another guy who was a top-rated prospect in his system, starting his career with Baltimore.  He ran into injuries early in his career, though, missing most of the 2000 season and the entire 2001 season with his first Tommy John surgery.  He was never really the same after that, and was traded to Texas for peanuts in 2005, only to have to go under the knife again later that summer.  He needed a third surgery while rehabbing from the second one, and wasn’t able to pitch again until 2007 in the Dodgers’ system.  He was released in 2008.

Denny Stark
Stark was once one of the more promising pitching prospects in the Mariners system, but was eventually traded to Colorado when the M’s acquired Jeff Cirillo.  He had a pretty good year in his first season in Denver, going 11-4 with a 4.00 ERA in 32 games (and 20 starts).  Things went downhill from there — he made his last appearance with the Rockies in 2004, and struggled to make a comeback until his career came full circle last summer with the Mariners.  He pitched in 9 games with his original club before getting DFA’d in early June.

Tyler Yates
Unlike a lot of guys on this list, Yates was never really a top prospect, which makes it remarkable that he was able to make the majors after the first surgery.  The first procedure happened in 2002, and he lost more time with a rotator cuff injury in 2005.  Pitching the last couple years with the Pirates, Yates underwent his second Tommy John surgery last summer and may miss a significant portion of this season as well, although the Pirates did retain his services for this season.

Victor Zambrano
Probably more famous for being the Mets’ return for Scott Kazmir than anything else, Zambrano also struggled with injuries.  His second surgery occurred in 2006, and when it became clear he would miss a large part of the 2007 season, the Mets non-tendered him.  Following the second surgery, he bounced around the league, signing deals with the Blue Jays, Pirates, Orioles, Rockies, and Yankees.  He officially retired following last season.

Jeff Zimmerman
Strictly a bullpen guy, Zimmerman actually made the All-Star team as a rookie in 1999, even finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting.  He became the team’s closer in 2001, saving 28 games for the Rangers and putting up an impressive 4.5 K/BB ratio.  He got a three-year, $10 million deal as a reward, but never pitched in a major league game after signing the deal — he got hurt in the spring of 2002, and a series of surgeries kept him from pitching in more than a few minor league games.  He officially called it quits in 2006, but came out of retirement in 2009 for a spring training invite with Seattle.  To date, he never returned to the majors following the surgeries.

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