It seems as if every time you turn your head, another pitcher is tearing their Ulnar Collateral ligament in their elbow. Masahiro Tanaka is the latest of many recent pitchers who have had their elbow ligaments fail them. While Tanaka is trying to avoid surgery, he is merely avoiding the inevitable. And this brings up a greater question; are all pitchers avoiding the inevitable? Nobody wants to get surgery, but with the UCL tear in baseball becoming more common and the surgery being successful, it does beg the question. To me, it starts at a very young age. By the time many of these pitchers are getting into the the minor leagues, they have most likely started at least 15 games a year since they were about 13. After all, pitching is not a natural motion for the elbow, so is there anything that can be done to limit the effects of something that is unnatural? I think there is a simple solution for many of these young arms. Don't throw as much!
People like to say how pitch counts nowadays have made the game soft, but if they were more prevalant at the lower levels of the game, you may not have 10-15 Tommy John surgeries a year in the major leagues. Teams need to prepare differently now because of the uprise in Tommy John injuries. You can never have too much pitching nowadays, even if you have up to 10 young arms in the woodworks in your farm system.
The fact that kids at 15 and 16 years of age are receiving this injury proves that it is not a product of anything going on in the major leagues, but that it is a product of a major increase of throwing starting at the younger ages. If you go back 20 or 30 years ago, many of those who played travel baseball will tell you that they only remember playing in the spring for their school and maybe a little bit in the summer. There was no fall baseball and showcases and weekly tournaments across the country. The problem starts at a young age, and those who control youth baseball have the power to fix the problem. The official organization of Little League that runs the Little League World Series has gotten off to a great start by creating very strict pitch count rules.
Once you get into the Babe Ruth leagues on the regular sized field however, pitch counts start to become less prevalent. There are always going to be those who can throw forever and those who can only throw 5 innings in a game, but the increase in youth baseball games over the years has coincided with the increase of Tommy John injuries. That idea cannot be refuted.