Wes Johnson and arm injuries

Because some has been made about the number of arm injuries at Arkansas and allegedly at Mississippi State last season, I decided to do a background check on Wes Johnson’s pitchers tonight.

Based on everyone I’ve spoken with, Wes’ background does not include a lot of serious arm injuries, in particular UCL tears that require Tommy John surgery.

I spoke with someone who coached with Wes for three years at Dallas Baptist. He said that in those three years DBU had one player tear his UCL and that the injury was suffered prior to him arriving at DBU. He said that Wes has been highly sought after because of his track record of developing power arms and keeping his pitchers healthy.

It is true that Mississippi State has had seven pitchers tear their UCL since the 2016 preseason, but it appears only one - Noah Hughes last April - did so while Johnson was coach there. One pitcher tore his UCL in fall practice before Johnson arrived. Remember Sunny Golloway wasn’t fired at Auburn until October 2015. Auburn hired Mississippi State’s pitching coach, Butch Thompson, and Mississippi State hired Johnson away from DBU.

There have been five MSU pitchers who have torn their UCLs since Johnson left, sparking speculation among some in Starkville that Johnson’s methods caused those pitchers to eventually become injured.

Now to Arkansas. We know for a fact that Keaton McKinney’s arm injury was suffered two years ago and he pitched through pain in his elbow last year. Cody Scroggins’ injury is a UCL tear, but Isaiah Campbell’s is not.

All told, it appears that Johnson has had four pitchers tear their UCL in his last five seasons as a D1 assistant coach, including McKinney’s injury and the injury at DBU, which were determined to have been suffered before Johnson’s arrival.

You can make of those numbers what you will. Given the number of pitchers on a team each season and the frequency with which UCL tears occur, it would appear to me that serious arm injuries are not more frequent under Johnson than other pitching coaches.

Given that the UCL injuries are occurring frequently, I wouldn’t think that these injuries could be laid at Wes Johnson’s feet.

I am a Wes Johnson homer so I am biased…

This is big boy baseball. Pitchers are the most prized commodity there is. Johnson has coached college ball since 2008. If his tactics seemed to have left a track record of pitchers with injured arms he would have never been hired at MSU or AR.

I find it interesting that MSU fans are blaming Johnson for the injuries here since he arrived but not looking at their new pitching coach for the injuries suffered since Johnson left. There is bias in their statements as well.

I’ve thought that is interesting as well. There is another factor that isn’t discussed. Most college players play summer baseball. I don’t know the specifics of all the injuries at Mississippi State, but there is the likelihood that those pitchers have worked with two pitching coaches since they last worked with Johnson - their new coach at MSU and someone in their summer league.

I know college coaches are wary of their pitchers being overused in the summer leagues. That’s the only job for some of those summer coaches, so they want to use the best pitchers as much as they can to win and keep their job.

Arkansas keeps close watch on its players in the summer leagues. I’ve observed multiple times when the Arkansas coaches tell their pitchers to shut it down and come home.

The work with the weighted baseballs is something that is either really liked or really hated across all levels of baseball. Wes loves it. He thinks it protects arms, not hurts them. I think you have to be careful with proper coaching technique with the weighted balls. Wes believes in it and has used it to effectively increase velocity (along with the pushing of weighted sleds to increase leg and hip strength). He said the weighted balls creates muscle strength to protect ligaments.

Indeed, UCL injuries are on the increase around baseball, especially at the pro levels. More Tommy John surgeries are being done than ever. Partly, there is better diagnosis and better technique on surgery and rehab, so they may try things they didn’t in another era of bad diagnosis and surgery.

I think some of it is just the desire to teach breaking balls to kids at a very young age. Shouldn’t be done. But it is done. And, you have some teaching that have no real expertise (and I’m talking parents and uneducated youth coaches). There may be injuries that happen early and aren’t treated. Then they become serious injuries later.

I think Wes Johnson is an outstanding get for the Arkansas baseball team. Mississippi State comes to town soon. I think it will be interesting when that happens.