On Zack Wheeler’s TJS and where the Mets go from here
Zack Wheeler, who was diagnosed with a fully torn UCL in his right elbow on March 16, will undergo Tommy John surgery on Wednesday and miss the remainder of the season.
Prior to the diagnosis, Wheeler underwent an MRI in Florida that was sent to New York and reviewed by team doctor David Altchek, who confirmed the tear.
Wheeler dealt with some elbow tendinitis last season, had two MRI’s over the winter that came back clean, and also received Platelet Rich Plasma treatment. The belief before the diagnosis was that this issue was more of the same.
However, after the diagnosis was made, the Mets revealed that they had been worried about Wheeler since last season and GM Sandy Alderson admitted that the team believed it might simply be a matter of time before Wheeler’s elbow gave out.
Wheeler has been replaced in the rotation – at least for the time being – by Dillon Gee.
The Wheeler injury and fallout needs to be dissected two ways.
The first, and most important thing, is how well and quickly Wheeler recovers.
As the Mets have seen first hand with Jeremy Hefner (who had to undergo a second Tommy John procedure) and Matt Harvey (who has come back from the surgery looking tremendous), the recovery from Tommy John surgery can be tricky.
The rehab process typically lasts 12-to-18 months, but most pitchers return on the earlier side of that estimate.
A 12-month rehab by Wheeler would put him on track to be ready for Opening Day in 2016, but it’s possible the Mets might handle him in a similar manner they handled Harvey – holding him back a bit to be careful even if things are going well.
Some have kicked around the idea of Wheeler not returning until August of September of 2016, noting that Harvey had roughly 18 months between game action. The issue with that comparison is that Harvey’s injury occurred late in the season, skewing the timetable and allowing the Mets to not rush him back for the end of a non-contending campaign.
A similar example to Wheeler perhaps is Bobby Parnell, who had Tommy John surgery last April and is on track to return to the majors in late-April or May.
While Wheeler might not be pushed that quickly, it’s hard to see him – or his representatives – being on board with any schedule that keeps him out needlessly. Perhaps a return around late-May or early-June of 2016 is a reasonable expectation.
The other side of the equation here is what the Mets could’ve done to prevent the injury.
While some seem angry at the Mets for not disclosing Wheeler’s issues over the winter to the media (why would it have made sense to do that?), others wonder if the Mets pushed him too hard in 2015.
An article by Brian Mangan at The Read Zone explains that no pitcher has thrown as many pitches over as few innings at Zack Wheeler over the last 15 years.
However, while Wheeler threw lots of high-stress innings (and tons of pitches per inning) last season, we’ve seen that any pitcher is susceptible to UCL tears and Tommy John surgery. Simply put, pitching elbows break for any number of reasons. They don’t discriminate.
Those who throw hard, those who top out at 89 MPH, those who are young, those who are old, those who throw tons of innings, those who throw not that many innings…they’re all at risk.
Maybe Wheeler’s workload contributed to his UCL tear, maybe it didn’t. But to jump to conclusions seems pointless.
The bigger issue is where the Mets go from here.
With tons of pitching depth and two high upside arms just about ready in Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz, the Mets should be able to withstand Wheeler’s injury.
When called up, will Syndergaard match whatever Wheeler was going to produce in 2015? Perhaps not, but he’s a high upside arm who profiles as a top of the rotation piece. And he’s just about ready to step in.
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