Under the radar: Successful Tommy John graduates worth the risk
Imagine you're a major league pitcher with a busted elbow. A hotshot Los Angeles doctor comes to you with a revolutionary procedure that might save your fastball. All he has to do is replace the torn ligament in your elbow with a working tendon from your hamstring, knee or foot. Your chance for full recovery is 1 in 100.
Recovery time is usually between 12 to 18 months with various degrees of success. Some pitchers claim to have better velocity on their fastball and with more consistency. Many have shined after the procedure (
Despite a great track record for success, TJ patients are not universally loved in fantasy leagues. Many owners devalue them or stay away all together. To them, the risk is not worth the reward. However, you don't need to be afraid. Here is a list of underrated hurlers worth targeting that recently went under the knife:
Feldman was relegated to the bullpen after surgery before joining the Rangers rotation in '08. Switching from a sidearm motion to a three-quarters delivery, he struggled mightily (6-8, 5.29 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) but he bounced back in '09 with a breakout year (17-8, 4.08 ERA, 1.28 WHIP). The Texas ace is having a rough April but he still is a solid start with the right matchup.
Wolf added shoulder surgery in '07, which might explain why he often gets overlooked. Despite his ailments, the 33-year old lefty has averaged 200 innings and a 3.74 ERA over the past two seasons. Wolf shouldn't be your top dog but he's a solid second or third starter.
At age 22, Liriano was among baseball's best pitchers but a rash of injuries, including forearm inflammation and elbow surgery, forced him to miss the entire '07 season. Upon his return, the Dominican southpaw was extremely overvalued, and many owners got burned (5-13, 5.80 ERA, 1.55 WHIP in '09). His value is low right now but that will change quickly if Liriano keeps pitching well (2-0, 1.29 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in three starts). Try to get him on the cheap now before he returns to ace status.
The lefty prospect didn't pitch in the majors last year yet he showed promise in the minors (1.03 WHIP, 9.8 K/9 in 37.2 innings). He's got everything going for him now with pitching coach guru
Wagner pitched only 15 innings in '09 while splitting time between the Mets and Red Sox. Atlanta signed him to be their closer this season, but I'm skeptical he can become an elite finisher again. Wagner's arm looks good so far (11 K in 6 innings) and his job is relatively secure. At the very least, he can be a steady source of saves and strikeouts.
Marcum missed all of '09, which makes every pitch he throws this year a clue about his recovery. He's already thrown three quality starts, his WHIP is great (1.00) and opponents are batting .243 against him. Yes, I like his chances.