Bad news for Kansas City Royals reliever Tim Collins — he’ll need to undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time in two years.
Could it have been prevented?
Collins was a year into rehabilitation from his first UCL replacement surgery, and about a month away from returning to game action when his elbow went out. I’m still digging for details on what led to the MRI exam confirming the tear, so for now all we can do is consider Collins’ history.
As of now, the only information we have are quotes from Collins regarding the soreness and pain he was experiencing. From The Kansas City Star:
Collins said he first began to sense something was amiss as he worked through his throwing program here in Arizona. He felt continual soreness in his left elbow. The sensation caused alarm. Yet the soreness was considered standard for a pitcher returning to the mound. Collins consulted with other Royals pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery. All said they had suffered from similar fatigue. Collins opted to keep pushing forward — until he couldn’t any longer.
“The confusion was a lot of the normal stuff I was feeling could also be stuff that’s not good,” Collins said. “It’s kind of hard to differentiate that. I was at a point where I didn’t want to keep trying to push through it.”
In mid March, as the soreness reached a head, Collins returned home for a week to be with his wife as his second child was born. The time off, Collins said, allowed for the inflammation in his elbow to subside. When he returned to Arizona, the Royals’ medical staff sent Collins to have an MRI.
“He was feeling some soreness in there,” Yost said. “And he thought it was natural soreness. But it was just sore. We just thought, ‘Let’s just get him an MRI, and we’ll ease his pain, show him everything is normal.’ But when it came back, the tendon was torn again.”
It would be helpful to know what kind of activities Collins was participating in, and, perhaps more importantly, it would be tremendous to see video and/or photos of Collins pitching off a mound this spring to determine whether he had corrected the flaws that caused his original elbow issues two years ago.
What we know about Collins prior to his surgery in 2015 is that he suffered a flexor strain that put him on the DL in April 2014. Something caused that, and, likely, whatever it was, wasn’t corrected because it eventually led to the UCL tear a year later. Based on video and photos from the past, Collins had several correctable flaws in his delivery that could have contributed to his elbow woes. We also know that Collins regularly engaged in a “long toss” routine during which he heaved the ball 300+ feet, an activity that puts tremendous strain on the elbow and is NOT recommended by anyone who knows how the elbow works (though dozens upon dozens of pitching coaches, pitchers, and “training experts” will recommend “long tossing” beyond dangerous limits as if it were as necessary as drinking water. Don’t believe it! The scientific evidence proves that damage can and will be done.)
One of the big red flags you can see is Collins’ follow-through — or perhaps, his lack thereof. Watch how his left arm almost stops, as if it were being braked, immediately after the ball is released. Most of the brunt of deceleration is put on the elbow as a result. What Collins could do instead is allow his arm to continue its momentum down and past his front knee, and “release” the elbow by naturally bending his arm at the elbow (so that the arm looks like the letter “L”). It’s not a difficult correction.
Combine the abrupt stop after release with his arm lagging behind his body, and it’s not a surprise that Collins has had arm injuries. A telltale sign can be seen in the photo below — when his front foot makes contact with the ground, his arm is nowhere near where it needs to be. This particular photo isn’t an anomaly — I’ve located over a dozen of Collins at foot strike from various dates and years.
If anyone has any photos or videos of Collins from this spring, please shoot me an email at joe (at) fixingpitchers (dot) com or hit me up on Twitter @fixingpitchers.