Tommy John surgery offers no guarantee

From Larry Stone, a (highly selective) list of pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery: Chris Carpenter, A.J. Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Tim Hudson, Francisco Liriano, C.J. Wilson, and Carl Pavano ... plus relievers Joakim Soria, Rafael Soriano, Arthur Rhodes, Brian Wilson, and Billy Wagner.

Such lists are both interesting and encouraging.

StrasburgStill, the notion that Stephen Strasburg's return to brilliance is a sure thing -- or that he'll be better than ever -- is whistling in the dark. There's little doubt that he'll pitch. But he's exceptionally unlikely to pitch better when he comes back. What, he's going to throw 102 miles an hour next time and post strikeout-to-walk ratios like Cliff Lee's?

I don't think so. The upside is that Strasburg pitches as well in the spring of 2012 as he pitched in the summer of 2010. That would be a major, major success story.

But there aren't any guarantees. Just look at Liriano, who missed all of 2007 and didn't begin to regain his 2006 skills until this year. Erik Bedard's (one) great season didn't come until some years after his surgery. Kris Benson has pitched for many years since his surgery, but never got back to where he'd been before it. A few pitchers have endured Tommy John surgery, followed by the long rehab ... and then done everything all over again.

Thanks to Dr. Frank Jobe and his successors, the prognosis is positive. But anyone who says he knows what will happen next shouldn't be trusted any more than someone who said Stephen Strasburg was a good bet to win 200 games.