By James Ward
Last week, the Yankees announced that Michael Pineda has an anterior labral tear in his right shoulder and will be sidelined for at least a year. When Pineda was put on the shelf after spring training with shoulder soreness, the Yankees hoped a stint on the disabled list might bring back life to his fastball. Now, his immediate future is certain – no pitching for a year, and his long-term future in doubt
Shoulder surgery is a pitcher’s worst nightmare. While the fears of elbow surgery have been calmed – as evident by the Yankees selection of Andrew Brackman in the first round of the 2007 draft, even though he needed elbow surgery- shoulder surgery has a much larger margin for error. Erik Bedard tore his labrum in July 2009 and didn’t see a major league mound until April 2011. Bedard still hasn’t regained his old form.
St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter missed a similar amount of time when he tore his labrum in 2002. Before the surgery, Carpenter had an average Major League career but since the surgery, Carpenter has excelled. He won the Cy Young Award in 2005 and placed in the top three, two other times.
Carpenter’s surgery was successful but there are more cases of ruined careers than successes. Kelvim Escobar and Brandon Webb never fully recovered from their shoulder injuries. After a failed comeback attempt, Escobar has retired and it is doubtful Webb will ever see the major league mound again.
Brian Cashman has been adamant that Pineda’s health was fine when the deal with Seattle was completed, even now with the full severity disclosed.
In January of 2001, the White Sox and Blue Jays agreed to a six-player deal that centered on pitcher Mike Sirotka to the Jays and David Wells to the Sox. Both players had strong 2000 seasons; Wells won 20 games and finished third in the Cy Young voting while Sirotka won 15 with a sub-4.00 era. After Sirotka passed the first physical, the deal was completed but a second physical revealed a labral tear. The Jays attempted to reverse the trade but Bud Selig ruled in favor of the White Sox. After the Jays cried ‘damaged goods’ on the deal, Wells had a bad season for the White Sox and Sirotka never threw another pitch in the major leagues.
One thing on Pineda’s side is his age. Carpenter came back from shoulder surgery at age 27 while Escobar, Bedard and Webb, all over 30 at the time of their injury, struggled to come back. Pineda is only 23 years old.
A negative for Pineda is his work ethic. In his brief time as a Yankee, his work ethic has come into question. He reported to spring training 20 pounds overweight and instead of leaving a positive first impression on the Yankees, he left a negative one.
Pineda is a power pitcher. In the first half of 2011, he struck out a batter an inning while featuring a fastball in the mid to high 90s. Will this severe shoulder injury hurt his velocity or will he return to the pitcher he was in 2011? As history has shown us, recovering from shoulder surgery is no sure thing.