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The Tommy John effect

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - First there was "planking." Then there was "Tebowing." Now all the cool kids are "Tommy Johnning."

Tommy John surgery is all the rage in the major leagues right now. Last week, a pair of stud closers, Joakim Soria and Ryan Madson, both decided to go under the knife.

Meanwhile, Brett Anderson, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Adam Wainwright are all slated to return to action after having Tommy John surgery last season. The 2012 season also will be the first full seasons since post-Tommy John surgery for ace Stephen Strasburg and All-Star closer Joe Nathan.

The saying "chicks dig the long ball" is about as outdated as John Axford's moustache. In the year 2012, ladies are all about the reconstructed elbow.

But are the Wainwrights and Strasburgs of the world worth the fantasy risk? It's a fair question.

Some stars have continued to thrive after having the operation while others have been mired in mediocrity, unable to overcome the loss of velocity and movement caused by the surgery.

Let's take a look back at how other Tommy John survivors fared after their surgery:

A.J. Burnett - Nowadays Burnett is mostly known for throwing pies in people's faces, but back in the mid-2000s, when Burnett was a member of the Florida Marlins, he was in the prime of his career. Burnett was a little ahead of his time: he had TJ surgery in 2003, several years before it became fashionable. His first year back was so-so (7-6, 3.68 ERA in 19 starts), but in 2005 Burnett was terrific, notching 12 victories and registering the second-lowest ERA of his career (3.44) in 32 starts for the Fish. After six years of playing in Toronto and New York, Burnett returned to the National League this season as a Pittsburgh Pirate.

Chris Carpenter - The 2005 NL Cy Young winner only toed the rubber four times between 2007 and 2008 after opting for Tommy John surgery late in the 2007 season. Carpenter's return season in 2009 was a masterpiece as he compiled a 17-4 record and a career-best 2.24 ERA. He finished second to Tim Lincecum in the Cy Young Award voting that season.

Eric Gagne - Gagne's comeback from his 2005 Tommy John surgery was as smooth as sandpaper. The Seth Rogen lookalike just could never put it together in his post-Tommy John years. Gagne finished the 2007 season with his worst ERA since 2001 (back when he was a starter) and was considered one of the weaker members of Boston's 2007 championship team. Gagne switched zip codes for the 2008 season and had a dreadful season for Milwaukee (career-worst seven blown saves and a 5.44 ERA). It was Gagne's last season in the major leagues. Gagne later admitted to using HGH during his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Jaime Garcia - Garcia's rookie campaign (1-1, 5.63 ERA in 10 starts) was cut short by an injury that later led to Tommy John surgery. The young left-hander missed all of 2009, but he was very sharp upon his return to the St. Louis rotation in 2010. He earned 13 wins and ended the season with what is still the lowest ERA of his career (2.70). Garcia continued his post-surgery dominance with an impressive performance in the 2011 World Series (1.80 ERA in two starts).

Tim Hudson - Hudson had been in the zone (11-7, 3.17 ERA) before Atlanta shut him down late in the 2008 season. Tommy John surgery limited the three-time All-Star to just seven appearances in 2009. Fully recovered, Hudson led the Braves back into the playoffs for the first time since 2005 the next season, garnering 17 wins (his most since he had 18 in 2001) and a tiny 2.83 ERA (lowest since 2003). The Braves couldn't get past San Francisco in the playoffs, but Hudson's fine season earned him the 2010 NL Comeback Player of the Year award.

Josh Johnson - Johnson had his surgery done in 2007, returning to the Marlins rotation for the last half of the 2008 season (7-1, 3.61 ERA in 14 starts). Johnson followed that up with a filthy 2009, posting career-highs in wins (15) and strikeouts (191). He finds himself on the comeback trail again in 2012, this time from a shoulder injury.

Francisco Liriano - Before there was Linsanity, there was Lirianity. The young Minnesota left-hander took the league by storm in 2006, sprinting out to a 12-3 record and a 2.16 ERA in 16 starts before being sidelined with elbow troubles in July. Liriano was OK in his first year back from the injury (6-4, 3.91 ERA in 2008), but since then, Liriano has had more ups and downs than a heart monitor. Overall, Liriano is 34-37 with a 4.58 ERA since the surgery. Liriano might finally be getting back on track: he is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in six spring training starts.

John Smoltz - Before he had Tommy John surgery in 2000, Smoltz was one of the most feared starting pitchers in baseball. After the surgery, Smoltz became one of the league's most dangerous closers. Smoltz had 10 saves working out of the Atlanta bullpen for the last half of the 2001 season. All Smoltz did in 2002 was set the NL saves record with 55 saves in 59 chances. To this day, Smoltz remains the only major league pitcher to accomplish the feat of winning 200 games while also saving 150 games.

Edinson Volquez - Volquez ripped through the NL in 2008, baffling opponents en route to a magnificent 17-6 record and a 3.21 ERA. He has not been able to rekindle that 2008 magic since Tommy John surgery shelved him for all of 2009. The pitching got so grim for Volquez last season (5-7, 5.71 ERA for Cincinnati in 2011) that he was actually sent down to Triple-A at one point. Volquez is looking for a fresh start this year in San Diego. He'll be the Padres' No. 3 starter.

Taking a pitcher who is coming off Tommy John surgery is like reaching into a bag of Halloween candy with your eyes closed. You could be grabbing a delicious Reese's peanut butter cup (Carpenter) or you could be holding a box of raisins (Gagne).

So when it comes to Anderson, Nathan, Strasburg and Wainwright, reach into the bag and hope for a Reese's. Or a Kit Kat. Those are good, too.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at

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