Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Curious Case Of Joel Zumaya

In the past, when Joel Zumaya would suffer an arm injury, people would put the blame squarely on him.
Guitar Hero. Moving boxes. Yeah. Right.
This time it's different. Zumaya had clearly matured and was doing the right things when Monday night his right elbow gave out on a key 3-2 pitch during the Tigers' big series at Minnesota.
It doesn't mean his career is over. Medical technology, particularly regarding elbow injuries, has advanced remarkably. The so-called Tommy John surgery, which replaces ligaments in the elbow with those from other parts of the body, has pitchers coming back, literally, as good as new. The process is a long one, though. If Zumaya faces such a surgery, he will be out for a long period of time. Probably until 2012 - at the earliest. There is no such surgery for shoulder injuries, which are far more precarious.
But Zumaya very well could return to throwing 100 mph fastballs regularly again. Youth is on his side.
I wonder sometimes, because he has been so injury prone, whether Tiger fans have afforded themselves the luxury to enjoy just what a unique talent is possessed by Zumaya. It impossible to know for sure who the hardest-throwing pitcher of all time is, but he is definitely among them.
It's a great story, because when the Tigers selected him out of high school in the draft, he barely touched 90 mph on the radar gun.
Velocity is one of the great mysteries of baseball. It comes and goes on whim. I remember talking to Mark Mulder, the year he was draft eligible at Michigan State. Oakland took him second overall in the draft that year, in large degree because he was 6-foot-6 lefty throwing in the high 90s with good command.
The Tigers had selected Mulder in the 57th round when he was coming out of his Suburban Chicago high school - as a first baseman. In high school, Mulder only threw in the low 80s. He no growth spurt or anything - he just started throwing harder. When I asked him why, he has no explanation.
Also, I wonder how Zumaya's career would be different had he been used as a starter. Not only does he throw extraordinarily hard, but has an excellent feel for pitching, and good off-speed pitches that were going to waste. It's easier to keep a pitcher on a set schedule and protect his health when he is starting.
By the way, I'm not surprised the Tigers called up Casey Fien instead of Daniel Schlereth. The Tigers have three left-handers in their bullpen already, and needed a right-hander. Schlereth is walking nearly a hitter per inning at Toledo, although he hasn't walked a hitter in his last few outings.



Anonymous Michael C said...

Zumaya has an excellent feel for pitching and good off-speed pitches that are going to waste?

Feel for pitching seems to be the weakest part of Zumaya's game by a long shot. And his off-speed pitches are prone to being pounded pretty hard. Heck, his curveball was just shelved and that's his 2nd best pitch.

I do like the call up of Fien though.

1:13 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Michael C,
Couldn't disagree with you more on this. They were not developed properly because he was always muscling up to throw hard.

1:42 PM 
Blogger Barry said...

Pat, looking forward to seeing Fien pitch and try figure why he has so much sucess at every level in the minor leagues.

3:47 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't disagree with you more Pat. If he started, the 100mph fastball would have remained in use. If you have the gift, you will use it.

Only time I remember power guys going finesse was when they lost the smoke.


7:23 AM 
Blogger Fred Brill said...

Zumaya puts me in mind of the SNL charachter Roseann Roseannadanna :

"Well Mr. Caputo - it's like my Daddy always said to me - it's always something... whether your playing air guitar or dropping boxes on your elbow - or making your arm bend so far the pure force of it gives way to the laws of physics ...".

Only it ain't really funny, is it.

7:55 AM 
Anonymous Michael C said...

But isn't always muscling up to throw hard a sign that he doesn't have a feel for pitching?

9:15 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Fien is lacking a true "out" pitch. But at least he should throw strikes.

11:58 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

You missed my point. He still would have thrown his fastball, obviously, and as his main pitch, but would have worked to develop his other pitches, which were very good when he came up to major league, but regressed as a reliever. He also could have stetched his arm out better as a starter.

12:00 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Fred Brill,
This time there were no issues other than the injury itself. Zumaya is a great talent, that's for sure.

12:01 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Michael C,
The other night, he threw nothing but fastballs. Most outings, in relatively short relief, he did the same thing. That wouldn't happen if he were starting. Can't do that because they time pitches second or third times around in order. Also, by throwing longer stretches and scheduled throwing in the bullpen, it would have protected his arm more. In my opinion.

12:05 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I get your point Pat. Hard for me to see how a guy that can't stay healthy pitching only one inning is suddenly going to get healthy pitching a regular six innings though.


7:08 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Previous to this season, I never thought Zumaya ever really knew how to pitch, he was just another speedballer, albeit a very fast speedballer. However, I think he used the strike zone better this season, to a small extent.

Overall, he's alright, but unable to stay healthy, so he can't be inked into their plans, same as he started out in Spring training this season.

If he comes back healthy, he will get a shot, and if he produces... fine. If he doesn't, goodbye Joel. He's not worth waiting for, or gambling on, at his point.

4:41 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

It's a different type of training regiment and throwing. He is kind of like a sprinter who gets hurt with sprints, but might not if running longer distances, that type of thing. But he might have gotten hurt anyway.

5:27 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Zumaya was way better this season. And he was working hard and doing the right things. Just a tough break.

5:28 PM 

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