Breaking down Delhomme's bionic elbow
ESPN researcher Greg Dohmann has done some extensive and fascinating research on Jake Delhomme's return from Tommy John elbow surgery.
Previous quarterbacks who underwent the surgery -- otably Craig Erickson and Rob Johnson -- failed in comeback attempts, so there really isn't much precedent for evaluation. In general, Delhomme has always been most effective when the Panthers limit him to between 20-29 pass attempts. In fact, the Panthers have won 21 of the last 24 games when Delhomme stays in that range.
So what effect, if any, has the surgery had on Delhomme? Interestingly, he has displayed improved efficiency later in games -- when he crosses the 30-attempt threshold. Entering this season, he completed just 57 percent of those passes with an 86.0 passer rating as the Panthers' starter. This season, his best completion percentage (65.0) comes on attempts beyond 30, and he's sporting a 95.6 rating.
Because of the lack of precedent for quarterbacks undergoing Tommy John surgery, the best comparison for Delhomme's performance are the athletes who most frequently require the procedure: starting pitchers. When looking at four notable pitchers who returned from Tommy John surgery this past season, we see that, like Delhomme, their biggest boost in performance (or where they regained previous form) came later in the game, while the most significant decline came early in an outing. Delhomme completed nearly 64 percent of his first 10 attempts in 2006 (his last full season); this year, he has completed less than 59 percent of those passes.
The Panthers also seem to be managing Delhomme's recovery by limiting his downfield attempts. Jake has attempted just 18 passes of 21 or more yards in seven games this season, just 15 percent of his pass attempts. That is easily the lowest percentage of his pass attempts as the Panthers' starter. Delhomme has completed just 6 of those 18 attempts.