Zoom Zoom to the Trainer’s Room Again

Joel Zumaya has torn his UCL and will miss the season. At some point, we have to ask if his career is threatened. And, even when that prospect saddens us, if there is something unnatural about throwing as fast as he has.

Since he debuted in 2006, “Zoom Zoom” has pitched in 171 games. He debuted with an incredible 97 strikeouts in 83.1 innings over 62 games that rookie year, and he hasn’t managed more than half of any of those totals in any year since. He missed 2011 completely. In fact, he’s been ineligible for over 600 games due to injury since 2006. His team has only played 1,134 games since 2006.

The injuries that have kept him out of more than half of his games so far in his career have been myriad:

• Wrist inflammation
• Ruptured finger tendon (surgery)
• AC joint separation (surgery)
• Right shoulder stress fracture
• Right shoulder soreness
• Right shoulder stress fracture (surgery)
• Right elbow fracture (surgery)
• Pin removal (surgery)
• Pin re-insertion (surgery)
• Torn UC ligament (surgery)

That’s a litany of injuries for a pitcher that has lit up so many faces in the crowd. Watch a video of Zumaya at his peak, and you get a sense of how sad this is for many.

Watch that same video, and you also start to understand why the list of injuries was so long. There’s a little too much ‘whip’ and ‘fling’ in the finish, along with some nasty recoil. But pitchers have had recoil before and lasted. Maybe it’s those gaudy radar numbers that, combined with his mechanics, have produced such ephemeral results (and ever-present injuries)?

Let’s look at the other high-velocity relievers in the PITCH f/x era. Without setting a single arbitrary cutoff (other than the date on which FanGraphs started publishing fastball velocity), Joel Zumaya has shown the fastest average velocity since 2002 among almost 1700 relievers:

Age vFA (pfx) ERA IP TBF K% BB%
Joel Zumaya 25 98.5 3.05 209.2 911 23.10% 12.50%
Aroldis Chapman 23 98.4 3.27 63.1 258 34.90% 17.80%
Henry Rodriguez 24 98.2 3.79 97.1 436 24.50% 13.80%
Maikel Cleto 22 97.9 12.46 4.1 25 24.00% 16.00%
Jordan Walden 23 97.7 2.85 75.2 318 28.30% 10.40%
Daniel Bard 26 97.4 2.88 197 795 26.80% 9.60%
Juan Morillo 25 97.2 12.15 6.2 32 12.50% 12.50%
Chris Carpenter 25 96.5 2.79 9.2 47 17.00% 14.90%
Jonathan Broxton 27 96.3 3.19 392 1640 30.70% 9.90%
Matt Lindstrom 31 96.3 3.81 279 1218 18.30% 8.60%
Nathan Eovaldi 21 96.3 10.12 2.2 15 0.00% 20.00%
Alexi Ogando 27 96.2 1.24 43.2 180 22.80% 8.90%
Neftali Feliz 23 96.2 2.55 162.2 638 25.70% 8.80%
Jason Motte 29 96.2 2.92 188 760 24.60% 7.90%
Jeremy Jeffress 23 96.2 3.91 25.1 109 19.30% 15.60%
Andrew Cashner 24 96.2 4.53 59.2 268 20.90% 12.30%
Kelvin Herrera 21 96.2 13.5 2 9 0.00% 0.00%
Matt Moore 22 96.1 6.23 4.1 20 20.00% 10.00%
Craig Kimbrel 23 96 1.75 97.2 394 42.40% 12.20%
Bobby Parnell 26 96 3.45 151.1 667 21.40% 9.30%

There’s a lot of two things on this list: young pitchers and injured pitchers. We’re getting closer to the day when we can combine age factors, velocity data, and numerical information from the pitching delivery to produce a surgery predictor, but we’re not there quite yet. Right?

And, in the case of Joel Zumaya, what good would it do? His fans will just have to remember the days when all of Comerica was on their feet, chanting his name, and roaring when they saw hitters flail at fastballs with triple digit gun readings. Zoooom!

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

26 Responses to “Zoom Zoom to the Trainer’s Room Again”

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  1. Why do you call me Mr. Tibbs? says:

    Aroldis Chapman, owner of the supposedly fastest fastball ever, is less on average than Zumaya? Damn

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  2. CircleChange11 says:

    There’s a little too much ‘whip’ and ‘fling’ in the finish, along with some nasty recoil.

    I’m pretty fanatic about pitching mechanics, but admit I do not know all. But, these terms are news to me. Can you link me to where you got them from.

    There are all sorts of “red flags” in mechanics (with exceptions), but “whip” and “fling” are two that I’ve never heard of.

    A quick google search of “Joel Zumaya mechanics” showed quite a few sites that show his big problem is the “inverted V”, whichj visually might look like some type of “whip” situation.

    What these means is that his pitching arm elbow rises above pitching arm shoulder during the late stride and landing. When the pitcher’s foot lands, his pitching arm should be at or very near a 90-degree angle (ball facing the sky). Zumaya at this point has the ball still well below his pitching arm shoulder (ball facing ground or 3B). It’s a pretty significant timing issue, which is most likely going to put tremendous strain on the shoulder.

    I don’t want to link to anyone’s sight, so here’s a decent image I found on google.


    This is more preferable (Halladay)

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      You can also see from those 2 images that Zumaya …

      1. Is a heel lander
      2. Does not land with a “semi-closed” front foot.

      So in other words, his hips have already begun rotating. His arm lags far behind. In simpler terms “he drags it”, namely due to his exagerrated (and high) scapular loading (pinch your shoulder blades together and you can feel what scapular loading is).

      So, basically he puts his arm in a dangerous position and then to compound it he has big timing issues between his front foot and pitching arm. Pitchers can get away with one significant red flag (like say Carpenter and the inverted L), but there’s not many guys that get away with “two” (or more).

      No mention of Guitar Hero? I thought that was mandatory when talking about Zumaya’s injuries.

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      • Tom says:

        I think the opening up (and “dragging” the arm) is a very good point, especially given how hard he throws.

        Not sure how to feel about the inverted W, it gets thrown about so much I don’t know what to think. I don’t think it’s meaningless but I wonder if it gets a bit overblown… though I do like your theory that this in combination with something else could have a compounding type effect

        Just curious – do you think opening up the hips and dragging the arm would be more worse throwing fastballs or breaking stuff (slider/curve)? Intuitively I’d think it’d be even worse for a breaking ball pitcher (especially one without an over the top type curveball)

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      • Tom says:

        “more worse”… if anyone responds feel free to mock the truly spectacular grammar!

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      • Colin says:

        @Tom, I think timing issues result in more stress during fastballs because it will put the maximum load on the arm v a curve or slower pitch that requires a bit less force.

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    • Eno says:

      Ah! See I just made them up to try and describe a little of what you described, except you did it much better. Very interesting that what I see with an untrained ete near the point of release is actually a problem that starts much earlier. I believe, looking now, that much of what I was seeing IS the arm trying to catch up a little. That’s the ‘whip.’ The fling might just be the recoil, which I gather is not always a harbinger of doom. But in concert! Why hasnt anyone managed to straighten him out?

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    • Colin says:

      Good analysis Circle, I have to say I’m a pretty big believer in the inverted V, W, and other tell tale signs of timing issues at this point. It could be selection bias but the reasoning for the problems are pretty sound from an anatomical point of view in my opinion. They are certainly likely to cause timing problems which would seem to make arm injury more likely due to more extreme stress being placed on the arm itself rather than the core body.

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  3. Slartibartfast says:

    “numerical information from the pitching delivery”

    lol. I was nodding my head until that.

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    • Eno says:

      We have release point data, but have you seen data that describes the stuff circlechange is talking about above?

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      • Slartibartfast says:

        I’m not necessarily dismissing biometric data out of hand, but anything like that is going to come with massive confidence bars.

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  4. Richie says:

    That list was less impressive than I thought it’d be. Certainly more good than bad, particularly when you weed out the real ‘low inning’ guys. But I’d have expected a bit more dominance.

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  5. Max says:

    It really is a sad story that such an exciting pitcher would have to go through this.


    This is a video of an injury from 2010. He looks like he is in so much pain, it’s sad to watch.

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  6. Antonio Bananas says:

    3 of the 5 at bats shown of Zumaya in his prime were purely luck. The weakly hit grounders and flyball have nothing to do with his ability and are entirely luck. Could have just as easily been triples.

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    • Jason says:

      I can’t tell if you are sarcastically mocking FIP or if you are a true believer….

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        sarcastically mocking it. I think it’s a useful tool at times, but it’s used around here like gospel. It’s such a small part of the game that to use it to paint broad strokes is pretty dumb. tERA should be used a lot more. Just look at the balls hit. Sure, maybe those grounders dribble through into a seeing-eye single, maybe the flyball lands in no-man’s-land, but there is definately a difference between those three batted balls and one that is rifled down the line. It’s why I believe in using LD, GB, and FB in the equations. To label any non HR/K/BB as “luck” is stupid.

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  7. Choo says:

    “We’re getting closer to the day when we can combine age factors, velocity data, and numerical information from the pitching delivery to produce a surgery predictor, but we’re not there quite yet. Right?”

    Probably not far off, either. For example, these four pitchers feature curveballs nearly identical in terms of magnus, release angle, curveball/fastball mph differential and % thrown:

    Erik Bedard
    Dana Eveland
    Jason Isringhausen
    Gio Gonzalez

    Followed closely by:

    Boof Bonser
    J.D. Martin
    Kevin Jepsen
    David Robertson

    Gonzalez and Robertson stand out as the only two pitchers on this list whose careers haven’t been derailed by arm injuries, and Robertson’s elbow started barking last September. No pitchers were left off the list for dramatic effect – this is the entire list of major league pitchers who throw the same curve. So knock on wood if you are Gonzalez or Robertson, or switch to laredo.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Gio also has a pretty pronounced “M” (or inverted W if you prefer to sound like you’re trying to sound smart and using too many words to describe “M”). So yea, I expect him to fall apart.

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      • Neuter Your Dogma says:

        I call it a 90 degree clockwise rotation of an uppercase Sigma.

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      • Colin says:

        This is true, I just call it an inverted w because that is the way I’ve heard it described. But yes an “m” would make more sense.

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      • I Agree Guy says:

        It looks more like an inverted W than an M though (unless you’re trying to sound smart and edgy by being a contrarian).

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Edgy? If our society has come to the point where saying “hey, an inverted W is basically an M” is edgy then we have problems. I’m not trying to be anything. Just saying that it’s stupid to call it an “inverted W”.

        Also, how does it look more like an inverted W than an M? That’s like saying an exclamation point and a lower case I aren’t the same thing just inverted. Sure, depending on the font or your handwriting, they could be SLIGHTLY different such as the length of the lines or the angle, but it’s the same thing. It’s not like I’m claiming a “P” and a “Z” are similar.

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      • Tactical Bear says:

        It’s referred to as an “Inverted W” instead of an “M,” because there is such a thing as a “Standard W” in pitching mechanics. Calling it an “M” does not highlight the Inverted W’s conrast to the Standard W. Calling it an “Inverted W” is not an attempt to sound smart, but rather a smart thing to call it.

        Did you really think whomever originally brought it to the public’s attention was just, like, being an ass or something?

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      • wat says:

        I don’t call it edgy, I call it “bringing something up because you think you are smart but are really a dumbfuck trying to sound smart by bring up an overused argument about something insignificant.”


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  8. Sabermetric Solutions says:

    So sad… Strasburg seems to be the next down this path with a similar whipping motion. If only every pitcher’s motion was like Lincecum or prospect Trevor Bauer… Then the DL would be a lonely place indeed.

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