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:
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!