A Real Fastball

Relief pitchers throw hard. This isn’t news. Jonathan Broxton, Brian Wilson, Matt Lindstrom, and Mark Lowe all average 96 MPH+ with their fastballs. Angel Guzman throws a 90 MPH slider. These guys are big, power arms who come in and light up radar guns. And compared to Joel Zumaya, they throw like nine year olds.

See, Zumaya’s average fastball this year is 99.4 MPH according to BIS, 99.1 MPH according to Pitch F/x. In fact, I’m going to just stop writing and show you a picture.


That’s Zumaya’s velocity chart over the last three years on a game by game basis. Look at the recent averages, then notice that they’re above the blue line that marks 100 MPH. Of late, Zumaya’s average fastball has been faster than 100 MPH. His average fastball.

This is just nutty. In his last appearance against the A’s, his fastballs went like this.

99.7 (I guess he took a little off)

12 fastballs, with an average velocity of 100.9 MPH. And he didn’t strike anybody out. In fact, he didn’t strike anyone out in the appearance before that, either, when he threw 25 fastballs that averaged 100.6 MPH. Despite throwing as hard as anyone ever has, it isn’t helping him much. Here’s Zumaya’s line for June, when he just started hitting triple digits on nearly every pitch.

10 1/3 IP, 12 H, 2 HR, 14 BB, 10 K, 8.43 FIP

As his fastball has edged up in velocity, his command has gone away entirely, and he’s been a Triple-A level reliever. Compare that with his 12 appearances in April/May, when he threw 16 innings, allowed 15 hits, walked 2, and struck out 15 for a 3.33 FIP. In his best outing of the year (May 19th vs Texas), he threw 10 fastballs and cracked 100 just once. He recorded three outs on 11 pitches, eight of which were strikes.

For Zumaya, there appear to be diminishing returns associated with his velocity. 99 with location is an awful lot better than 101 with no idea where it’s going. For his sake, and really for baseball’s sake, let’s hope the Tigers can help him ease back off the fastball a little bit. The game could really use a fun to watch relief ace who can hit 100 whenever he wants come October. It is less enjoyable to see him walk the world throwing 102.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

11 Responses to “A Real Fastball”

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  1. matthew says:

    Guzman throws a 90 mph CUTTER not a Slider

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    • kris says:

      It’s moderately enjoyable to see how adamant you are about this cutter. I guess it depends how you judge a pitch. Do you judge a pitch based on movement, or based on grip?

      A lot of pitchers get upset when you call their sliders curveballs, and on and on.

      To me, a pitch does what it does, I don’t care how you grip it or how you name it.

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  2. The A Team says:

    Diminishing returns suggests that there are still positive returns. Zumaya is actually hurt for every mph above 100 he goes (or thereabouts)

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  3. AB says:

    It is interesting, because a lot of people talk about 95 being the magic number for being able to work up in the zone….but according to that line batters are still getting very comfortable swings on 100+. He must be either tipping his pitches or just have no command of a second pitch to let hitters gear up

    Similar thing this year with Bobby Parnell of the Mets, he throws effortless gas sometimes touching 100 and sitting at 95, but hitters get a lot of good swings on his fastball

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  4. Matt S says:

    Does throwing harder lower late breaking movement on a fastball? It seems that it might. If a certain grip gives a 95mph fastball a tailing motion as it nears the zone, wouldn’t throwing that same pitch at 100mph cause the bulk of the movement to happen later in the ball’s tragectory and therefore too late from a baseball standpoint. It’s just a thought, but I will be digging into Parnell and Zumaya’s pitchF/X data first chance I get.

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  5. matthew says:

    The reason why he gets hit so hard is cause there is no Deceeption AT ALL

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  6. SmallBall says:

    I have an interesting tidbit to add. I was watching the MLB gameday for this game against Oakland referred to in the article. I was especially intrigued by the pitch sequence to Matt Holliday.

    Zumaya threw 10 pitches to Holliday. The first being a curveball that missed low, but not by much. The next three were fastballs, the first two strikes, and the 4th pitch of the sequence was a ball high(and judging by the location he presented for every other fastball to Holliday I am guessing it was intended to be there to see if he would chase.)

    But it is really pitch 5 that was interesting. He tried to throw a curveball and almost hit the moon. Everything about it was disgusting. His release point was way off from any other pitch he had thrown, including the original curveball.

    It sticks out like a sore thumb. What I am assuming is that for Zumaya to throw that hard he has to forgo any other type of pitch. Which means he is pretty much a lame duck.

    I am curious to know what percentage of curveballs he throws go for strikes.

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  7. Eric Cioe says:

    Zumaya’s curve has actually been pretty good lately, and he’s been stealing strike 1 with it with some regularity.

    Just watching, it looks like the problem to me is that he doesn’t pitch like most guys who throw really hard. You watch Verlander throw 97 and it’s usually above the belt. Guys can’t catch up to it when it’s up there. Zumaya always tries to hit the bottom of the zone, and when he misses, it’s either low, resulting in walks, or belt-high, resulting in contact. I think it’s just a matter of location, not velocity. He said after his Texas game that he wasn’t throwing any harder than he normally does, but the warm weather has his arm feeling looser. Who knows if that’s the case?

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    • SmallBall says:

      That is actually what I was alluding to. If Zumaya throws the curve to start off the at bat he can throw it for a strike, but once he has thrown the a few fastballs his curve is useless, until of course he can settle down a bit and throw it again to start a pitch sequence.

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  8. PhDBrian says:

    A pitch hit on the sweet spot that is 100 MPH will go farther faster than a pitch hit exactly the same way at 90. I think 100MPH is waaay overrated. The key is to fool the batter and throw off his timing. If you throw a bunch of 100 MPH pitches most major leaguers will time it eventually and hit it well. but if you go 90 then 80 then 90 then 70 MPH with good location then noone can hit that 70 mph pitch well because your eyes wont focus on it right. As a reliever Zumaya usually only throws two pitches and his curve is faster than most, so it is hard for him to fool batters with speed. Plus, a pitch thrown that fast will cause a greater variance in its trajectory than a slower pitch. That is pure physics, so a 100 MPH pitch will always be harder to control than a slower pitch. Always! So unless he can disguse the pitch better, use different arms angles, or find a changeup that hits the 80s he will always be a so so reliever.

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  9. Dann says:

    I seem to remember that early in the season, Zumaya was still getting “up to speed”, but was still over 95 with the fb, and the curve/change were under control. He wasn’t walking people and was getting Ks (going over the game logs, through May he had a 15:2 K:BB in ~15 innings).

    Now that he’s built up his arm again, I can’t help but think he’s gotten back into the mindset of trying to blow up the radar gun. He’s throwing harder but has given up any movement and some (a lot?) of control. His June K:BB is 10:14 (as noted in the article)!

    Why hasn’t the team gone to him and said “Hey, maybe you should stop trying to throw every pitch 104 MPH.” (which FS Detroit actually had on their gun, which means it needs to be re-calibrated)?

    Watching the Tigers postgame right now, they’re talking about exactly this. He pitched 2.1 IP today and had 4 Ks (the 2 BB were IBB), so maybe they are trying to get him to dial back to 95% and go back to May’s form.

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