Does Tommy John surgery end Hall of Fame chances?


Driving into work last week, I heard an interview with John Smoltz on the Dan Patrick Show. Smoltz had an interesting comment during the interview that I had never really considered.

“I’m the first pitcher to ever to be elected to the Hall of Fame after having Tommy John surgery,” he said. “And I think I will be the last.”

That can’t possibly be right, I thought. With how common Tommy John surgery has become, how can Smoltz say he will be the last to be a HOF that has the procedure?

Then I looked at the list of players. What I saw, at least among those that have already had the surgery, is that he may be right.

Smoltz’s reasoning was that because Tommy John surgery knocks a pitcher out for over a year, followed by stricter pitch counts for another season, it is extremely difficult to get the numbers need to be a Hall of Famer.

Smoltz blew out his elbow when he was 33, and as a result, came up well short of the 300-win benchmark that would lock up a Hall of Fame induction. However, his move to the bullpen after surgery gave him 154 saves to go with his 213 wins. Add a Cy Young, eight All-Star appearances and a 3.33 ERA, and you have a Hall of Famer.

To research Smoltz’s statement, I looked online to find the complete list of major leaguers that have had Tommy John surgery. Looking through the list, there is only one retired player that could have a legit HOF argument – Chris Carpenter.


Carpenter had some dominant seasons with the Cardinals, winning a Cy Young in 2005 and winning a least 15 games five times. After three stellar seasons, Carpenter had TJ surgery in 2007. When he came back full time in 2009, Carpenter led the league in ERA (2.24) and finished second in the Cy Young voting.

His 10-4 record and 3.04 ERA in the playoffs could also help build the case for Carpenter.

But does Carpenter have the career numbers to warrant a Hall of Fame induction? He only finished with 144 wins, and didn’t finish with an ERA under 4.00 until his seventh season. He made the All-Star Game three times and finished with a 3.76 career ERA.

With those stats, Carpenter is far from a Hall of Fame lock. He may be one of those guys who are on the ballot for a while before really getting close to induction. Personally, I’m not sure if he will ever get more than 60-percent of the vote, which would be well short of the Hall of Fame.

So now we look at the active players that have had the surgery. The only one over the age of 30 that stands out is Tim Hudson.

Hudson’s 214 wins and 3.45 ERA compare to Smoltz. However, he has no Cy Youngs and only four All-Star appearances. His 1-4 record in the postseason doesn’t help either.

If Carpenter doesn’t get into the Hall, it’s pretty much impossible to make a case for Hudson either.

Now here comes the trickier part – projecting the youngsters that have had TJ surgery.

There are some interesting names on the list. Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez and Yu Darvish are names that may someday be in the discussion. But can you even remotely consider those guys as potential Hall of Famers when they are so young into their careers? No way.

Taking in all the facts, I think Smoltz is right in his assessment … for now. Obviously an unexpected arm injury to someone currently on the HOF track (like Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez) could change things, but right now, there probably won’t be any TJ patients that get inducted for at least 15 years. Maybe after that time, we’ll be able to start looking at the younger guys.

Until then, you could say that while you can come back and be a strong pitcher after Tommy John surgery, it probably knocks you out of consideration for the Hall of Fame.

Awful predictions

OK, you know the routine. Here are my horrible picks for the 2015 MLB season.

AL East

  1. Toronto – I really like the lineup, and the rotation could be sneaky good.
  2. Boston – They improved a lot since last year, but I still have questions about the rotation.
  3. Baltimore – Will still make a run at the playoffs, but no major additions in the offseason hurt.
  4. New York – Too old to stay in the race all year.
  5. Tampa Bay – Back to rebuilding.

AL Central

  1. Detroit – I think they have one last run in them.
  2. Chicago (WC) – Potential for bust here, but I think Abreu can carry this team pretty far.
  3. Cleveland – The lineup has a lot of injury prone players, so the rotation will be the key to the playoffs.
  4. Kansas City – Postseason experience will help them stay in the hunt, but division got too much stronger.
  5. Minnesota – No chance in this competitive division.

AL West

  1. Seattle – With a stellar rotation, the offense should be just good enough to get a division crown.
  2. Los Angeles (WC) – The pieces are still there for another trip to the playoffs.
  3. Oakland – Too many losses from last year’s squad.
  4. Houston – Will make a run at 80 wins, but will probably finish in the 75-78 range.
  5. Texas– They will score some runs, but with that rotation, they don’t really have a shot.

NL East

  1. Washington – The lineup is a bit overrated, but with that rotation, it doesn’t really matter.
  2. Miami – This is kind of by default, since they have the most potential in the East.
  3. Atlanta – They are a mess, but then again, so is most of the division.
  4. New York – Bartolo Colon (yes, that Bartolo) is their Opening Day pitcher…
  5. Philadelphia – I hate it for Ryno, but this roster is a disaster.

NL Central

  1. St. Louis – I hate to say it, but this is probably the most balanced team in the league.
  2. Chicago – The Cubs will be in the hunt, but they are still a year away.
  3. Pittsburgh – Due for a bit of a letdown after back to back playoff appearances.
  4. Milwaukee – Might be better than some think.
  5. Cincinnati – This squad seems to be dying a slow and painful depth.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles – I mean, based on their roster and payroll, don’t they have to be division favorites?
  2. San Diego (WC) – The most improved team along with the Cubs, but the pitching needs to stay healthy for them to make the postseason.
  3. San Francisco (WC) – The Giants always seem to be in the hunt and poised for a playoff run.
  4. Colorado – It will be interesting to see if Tulo goes on the trading block at midseason.
  5. Arizona – They have Paul Goldschmidt and a lot of question marks.


AL MVP: Jose Abreu, Chicago

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle

AL Rookie of the Year: Carlos Rondon, Chicago

NL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant, Chicago

AL Divisional

Toronto over Detroit: It just seems like the Tigers fall to the hot team in the playoffs.

Seattle over Chicago: Home field advantage will play a big part in this series.

NL Divisional

Los Angeles over St. Louis: This has the potential to be another fun series like last year.

Washington over San Francisco: The Nationals get their revenge and finally advance to the NL Championship.

League Championship

Seattle over Toronto: The Blue Jays jump out to a 2-1 series lead, before the Mariners pitchers find a groove and win the next three games.

Los Angeles over Washington: Ultimately, the Dodgers have a better lineup, which gives them the series in six.

World Series

Los Angeles over Seattle

Probably not the most exciting match-up for TV ratings, but it will feature some stellar match-ups. In the end, Kershaw exercises his playoff demons and claims MVP honors.

Bear Down and Keep the Faith!


About Joshua Buckley

I used to be a Sports Editor. Now I'm the Media Relations Manager at the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.


2 thoughts on “Does Tommy John surgery end Hall of Fame chances?

  1. Adam Wainwright is one to watch for Hall of Fame consideration. He may set the new benchmark for post-TJ surgery pitchers. He’s been dominant when healthy. He had 120 wins, and at age 33, could add another 80-100 if he pitches until age 40. 300 wins is no longer the HoF test. I don’t know what it is, or if wins even should factor into “worthiness,” but Wainwright seems like a good candidate sometime down the road.

    Posted by Matt W. | April 6, 2015, 2:19 pm

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