As of now, it is still unknown if Masahiro Tanaka will be posted. In the last week, we’ve heard that he won’t be posted, we’ve heard that he will probably be posted, then we heard that he won’t. Now we’re back to where we started, not knowing anything more than we knew two weeks ago.
Of course, the Dodgers don’t necessarily need another starting pitcher. Tanaka would be a nice pitcher to have, but the Dodgers can probably survive without him. If Tanaka isn’t posted, or if the Dodgers lose the bidding and he goes to another team, the opening day rotation will probably look like this:
Beckett gets the fifth spot almost by default, since he’s owed $15.75MM in 2014. Beckett’s had a fairly long and successful career, but not without a few bumps along the way. He’s going into his age 34 season, so normally the Dodgers could expect a fairly solid performance for a number five starter.
However, Beckett missed almost all of the 2013 season after having surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. From friend of the site and doctor @VNDtoLAD:
TOS, in short, can compromise the nerves and/or blood vessels between the neck and arm, and severity of symptoms and disease upon diagnosis can vary – from advanced disease and highly compromised innervation, to disease limited to vascular involvement, thereby sparing the nerve. Early in the 2013 campaign Beckett had reported symptoms consistent with TOS: nerve irritation in his neck and numbness in his fingers. In order to fix this Beckett attempted basic rehab – rest and immobilization. Upon return of the symptoms of TOS with exertion, doctors decided to surgically decompress the nerve by removing one of his ribs.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is a fairly rare condition, but I did some research and found eight pitchers who have had surgery for TOS since 2001. This does not count Beckett, or Shaun Marcum who had the surgery this year.
Here are the eight pitchers, along with the year in which the surgery was performed:
- Kenny Rogers – 2001
- Aaron Cook – 2004
- Kip Wells – 2006
- Jeremy Bonderman – 2008
- Chris Carpenter – 2012 (had symptoms of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2008 as well, but elected rest and rehab instead of surgery)
- John Rheinecker – 2008
- Matt Harrison – 2009. Had Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery again this offseason, this time for his non-throwing shoulder.
- Noah Lowry – 2009. May have been misdiagnosed with Exertional Compartment Syndrome in 2008, which lead to a surgery that he may not have needed. Operated on for TOS in 2009. (source)
Here’s a quick (and cluttered) visualization on how the surgery has impacted the listed players:
This chart shows the years away from the surgery on the X axis, and the fWAR by season on the Y axis. X=0 is the year in which the surgery took place (or the last season before the surgery). Negative X values are years before the surgery, and positive X values are years after the surgery.
Of the eight listed pitchers who had surgery for TOS:
- Seven pitchers (87.5%) were primarily starters before the surgery (Rheinecker was primarily a relief pitcher in the season before his surgery)
- Three pitchers (37.5%) did not pitch at all in the majors following the surgery (Carpenter, Lowry, Rheinecker). Carpenter’s retirement may have been more due to his age and previous injury history, so it’s probably not fair to consider TOS as the only factor.
- Three pitchers (37.5%) managed a season worth 1 fWAR or higher after the surgery (Rogers, Cook, Harrison). All three of these pitchers were able to manage at least two 3 fWAR seasons after the surgery.
- Two pitchers (25%) remained active for an extended period of time but did not post a +1 fWAR season after the surgery (Wells, Bonderman). Wells transitioned to relief in 2008, two seasons after his surgery.
- Four pitchers (50%) are still active today (Cook in AAA, Wells in AAA, Bonderman, and Harrison).
The biggest success following the surgery was Kenny Rogers, who posted a 17.8 fWAR in seven seasons after his surgery. Aaron Cook managed 15.7 fWAR in eight seasons, and Matt Harrison has had 7.6 fWAR in four seasons so far, though he missed most of 2013 with unrelated pitching arm trouble. The five remaining pitchers combined for +0.4 fWAR in 11 post-surgery seasons. In other words, 37.5% of the sampled pitchers provided 99.0% of the value following thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.
Based on this research, the future may not be so bright for Beckett. A 37.5% “success rate” is pretty low for most baseball medical procedures these days. If the Dodgers don’t end up with Tanaka, Zach Lee (likely next on the Dodgers’ starting pitcher depth chart) needs to be ready.
This post references the following statistics:
- fWAR (Fangraphs wins above replacement): In this post, specifically for pitchers. A method of evaluating the overall value of pitchers, using peripheral stats rather than runs allowed. Explanation here.