With starting pitchers, there seems to be a book which has developed as to when they can return from Tommy John surgery. The typical rule of thumb has been a pitcher can return to game action anywhere from 18-24 months. There are those who have setbacks, and teams do typically try to push relievers to just one year. However, overall, the 18-24 month framework seems to work well.
With there having not been as many position players to undergo Tommy John surgery, especially when compared to pitchers, teams do not have the same set of recommended guidelines for position players. Without those guidelines, it seems position players are pushed harder in their rehab so they can return well before the 18-24 month time period. That has had mixed results.
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager underwent Tommy John surgery on May 6, 2018. He would be ready for the 2019 Opening Day, and he has been good at the plate hitting .270/.352/.452. While those numbers are good enough to rank 10th in wRC+ among shortstops with at least 250 plate appearances, this is well below how he performed from 2016 – 2017.
We are seeing Travis d’Arnaud perform well for the Rays after having undergone Tommy John surgery on April 17, 2018. The Mets would only give him two rehab starts and five starts over a three week span before designating him for assignment. He would find his way to the Rays almost 13 months after his surgery, and he is currently hitting .282/.342/.542 with the Rays.
For his part, Didi Gregorius isn’t having the same level as success as Seager or d’Arnaud. Through his first 25 games back from his own surgery, he is hitting just .252/.274/.388. That stands to easily be his worst performance in his career. While he is a revered figure among the Yankee fanbase and he is thought of well by the organization, you wonder how long the Yankees can stick with that level of performance with how DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Gio Urshela have performed.
In fact, looking at the performance of that trio, you really have to wonder why the Yankees would rush Gregorius back from his surgery. As we learned, Gregorius sustained a torn UCL during the ALDS against the Red Sox. As a result, he would undergo Tommy John surgery on October 17, 2018. He would begin his rehab assignment less than seven months after his having undergone surgery. After hitting .156/.206/.250 in an eight game rehab assignment, he would find himself back in the majors after a little more than seven months after surgery.
Given how little time he’s had to rehab, no one should be surprised with how Gregorius has struggled. By the same token, we should not expect him to perform well at all this year. Fact is he underwent a major surgery, and he has had nowhere near sufficient time to rehab from the surgery and get back up to game speed.
In short, the Yankees have handled this about as poorly as they could have. As we saw with d’Arnaud, it was a very uncharacteristic Mets like move for the Yankees. Their handling this poorly is made all the worse when you consider there was no need to rush him back given the performances of LeMahieu, Torres, and Urshela. Seeing how the Yankees consider themselves World Series contenders, it will be interesting to see how they continue to handle the Gregorius situation for the rest of the season.