This may seem like a basic statement, but sometimes the right decision made with every piece of data and insight available at the time can result in a bad outcome. The converse is also true. Some call this luck, either good luck or bad luck. When Ned Yost calls for another bunt that works out in his team's favor, it doesn't automatically mean it was the right decision. It just happened to work out. Happens all the time all over sport and clearly beyond it, as well.
Let's remember back to last year, when Tanaka initially got hurt. MRIs, doctors, lots of doctors. The best elbow/arm specialists on the planet. And their unanimous conclusion was rest, treatment, and rehab. These are medical wizards, not a bunch of mopes gathered outside around a food truck (no slight on food trucks; I love them). The suggested method of treatment, given everything known at the time, was conclusively not to operate on the elbow. Surgery, especially for something as invasive and career-risking as TJS, should be the option of last resort, not first. Yet every person with a byline, a microphone, or video camera insisted that Tanaka go ahead with the surgery despite what the best medical advice had to say. As they say in the legal community: "He who represents himself has a fool for a client.". But that didn't stop the writers.
Fast forward to today. This setback (that's my 'optimistic-speak' talking) has spawned a fresh round of arm-chair doctoring and second guessing at a level I can't quite ever remember witnessing. Here are a few of the "best" keyboard doctors money can buy; I hope they're available on your HMO plan:
Dr. John Harper, upon counsel from Drs. Martinez and Schilling:
But is that realistic? If Tanaka has developed a forearm strain, mild as it may be, after four starts this season, it’s logical to think that the ligament tear in his elbow is a factor in some way.
This is why so many teams and pitchers opt for getting Tommy John surgery rather than trying to pitch once they have been diagnosed with a ligament tear. This is why the likes of [Pedro] Martinez and Curt Schilling said they thought Tanaka should have had the surgery.
Sorry for #Tanaka but I saw it coming. Too bad he had this setback. I wish him the best and a quick recovery
— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez)
Tommy John surgery has yet to be scheduled for Tanaka, but that is just a matter of time, too. It always is just a matter of time when it comes to these types of elbow injuries.
Tanaka clearly was in a state of denial Tuesday night outside the Yankees’ clubhouse when he was talking about the latest arm issue that will put him on the disabled list for at least 15 days.
It’s time to change game plans. This is not working. He needs to have Tommy John surgery to have any chance of getting back to being the kind of pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting when they shelled out $175 million.
I could go on and on, sourcing silly stuff like this. It just doesn't end.
And the hard part for me to swallow is that they might be right. Tanaka MIGHT need TJS at some point. Could be in a month, six months, a year, or three years. Even Cashman, when asked, indicated that this new injury "could" result in elbow surgery. The "I told you so" brigade will not stop.
But ultimately, what's holding me firmly in Tanaka's and the Yankees' camp is the fact that they have ALL of the facts on their side. Not these writers and the commentariat. They have read the MRIs. They've spoken to Tanaka. They have made the correct decision with the best information available at the time. If it fails, it doesn't fail due to logic. If fails because sometimes that happens, regardless of the process leading to the outcome. Trust the process.
These doctors (and the team) also are well aware that TJS is not a cure-all. It doesn't make you bionic. It doesn't always return the player to their pre-injury stature. While TJS has unfortunately become commonplace, it, like most invasive procedures, carries some degree of risk and no assurance that your body will return exactly like it was. But the writers and commentariat conveniently disregard that most basic and underlying fact.
Thankfully, Buster Olney keyed on it pretty firmly: (emphasis mine):
As Stephania Bell reported and David Cone reiterated on the Yankees’ broadcast: There is no sure thing about Tommy John surgery. The success rate is not 100 percent, nor close to 100 percent. And Tanaka had been throwing well, with two walks, 14 strikeouts and one run in 13 1/3 innings, before arriving at Yankee Stadium and reporting discomfort with his wrist. He has a 3.22 ERA so far this season, with his velocity down slightly; I’m not sure why there’s a push for an elbow reconstruction given that he’s shown he can pitch well without it.
A more appropriate intermediate step is for the Yankees to determine whether to give Tanaka at least five days between five starts, rather than four, given that his wrist discomfort popped up after he made a start last week on four days’ rest.
Tanaka has demonstrated that he can pitch well in spite of the partial tear in his elbow ligament. Why would he or the Yankees sacrifice that for the rest of 2015 and into 2016 given that there’s no guarantee of what he’ll be after he gets the procedure done?
If Tanaka comes back in late May or June and is terrible, if he’s not functional, then the context changes and surgery could be more appropriate.
The well-reasoned Will Carroll had the following to say:
Sources tell me that the strain is nearer the wrist, in one of the extensor muscles. It’s impossible to say that this injury is not related to the previous elbow injury — you remember, the ligament that healed up after rest, treatment and PRP — but there’s no evidence that it is related either. Maybe he changed his mechanics just enough to cause an issue or maybe the force that was hurting his elbow, now healed, has transferred up the kinetic chain. We won’t and can’t know.
I'm terrified that Tanaka will need TJS, as are most fans of the team and baseball as a whole. No one likes to see the best in their craft disappear. But until that decision is made, I'm going to side with the doctors and specialists here. At some point, the writers will be able to humblebrag with crocodile tears that they knew it was coming and the team should have listened to them so very long ago.
That will make me even sicker.