Make Or Break Year: Joel Zumaya

46520100620057_Dbacks_at_Tigers Long before Aroldis Chapman defected from Cuba, Joel Zumaya was the guy breaking all sorts of velocity records. During the 2006 ALDS, MLB Advanced Media's pitch tracking system clocked one of his fastballs at 104.8 mph, heights previously unreached. Zumaya, now 26, burst onto the scene that year with a 1.94 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 83 1/3 innings, holding opponents to a .187/.287/.270 batting line. The Tigers had their closer-in-waiting with Todd Jones nearing the end of his career, but injuries started to strike.

Since the start of the 2007 season, Zumaya has been on the 60-day disabled list five times, at least once per season. He had shoulder surgery to repair an AC joint separation in 2007, an injury he suffered helping his family move items in advance of California wildfires. Two years later he had another surgery on his shoulder, this time to correct a non-union stress fracture. Last year he suffered perhaps the ugliest injury of all, fracturing a bone in his elbow mid-pitch. 

That breakout 2006 season has been followed by four seasons with no more than 38 1/3 innings. Zumaya has been effective when he's been on the mound though, striking out 8.1 batters per nine and pitching to a 3.78 ERA over the last four years. He's not what he was that rookie season, but he's certainly been a quality relief arm, and quality relief arms have been rewarded with handsome multiyear contracts this winter.

Zumaya is now entering his final season of team control. He and the Tigers have already agreed to a $1.4MM salary for 2011, but that's a pittance compared to what he could make in the future with a strong and, most importantly, healthy season. Zumaya has already started throwing off a mound and is on track for Opening Day, but that's just step one of a season-long process.

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.


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37 Comments on "Make Or Break Year: Joel Zumaya"


Ferrariman
4 years 6 months ago

how does a guy with a 100+ mph fastball last until the 11th round.

wild05fan
4 years 6 months ago

Didn’t think he was capable of developing of a breakingball, but I understand you’re thinking on it. I would wonder the same thing. Scouting had to be off somewhere along the lines for organizations to not know about that power arm.

dc21892
4 years 6 months ago

His mechanics blow. It’s well observed.

Ferrariman
4 years 6 months ago

there are plenty of people with terribly violent mechanics who get taken very early because they have so much potential. Last year, Chris Sale was a great example. Zumaya was drafted out of high school though so maybe Allie is a better example. It just doesn’t make sense how he lasts that long.

dc21892
4 years 6 months ago

I guess, but talent alone doesn’t overcome poor mechanics. Eventually the guys with poor mechanics will get injured unless it’s fixed. You can take a guy, hope he lasts a while before getting hurt or hope he changes his mechanics. For Zumaya, he throws SO hard with that awful release point, the extra velocity certainly doesn’t help his arm. Fracturing your elbow mid pitch is pretty hard to do.

YanksFanSince78
4 years 6 months ago

Yeah but there’s so much known about mechanics now a day. How did the organization NOT make him change that?

dc21892
4 years 6 months ago

Not sure.

YanksFanSince78
4 years 6 months ago

Yeah but most scouts will know exactly what needs to be done about a guy and sign him anyway.

“Explosive stuff but really needs to change his mechanics to avoid health issues”. That sort of statement.

The_Silver_Stacker
4 years 6 months ago

I say that to my dad anytime we watch A.J. Burnett pitch

rbeezy
4 years 6 months ago

he threw low 90’s when he was drafted.

verlander
4 years 6 months ago

He didn’t develop the 100mph fastball until he was in the Tigers’ system.

dc21892
4 years 6 months ago

I wish the best to this guy, but he NEEDS to change his mechanics or he will continue going down with season ending injuries until he decides to give up trying to come back and pitching. His stuff is great, the only thing holding him back from becoming great, also, is his inability to stay healthy. His release point is very dangerous, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that he gets hurt so often.

TheBigNice
4 years 6 months ago

What specific changes would you have him make that would preserve his velocity?? Why is his release point so dangerous?? I’m not being sarcastic, I really want to know.

I think he ought to add power changeup… that’s not overly taxing to ones arm compared to a breaking pitch, correct??

dc21892
4 years 6 months ago

It’s tough to explain over the computer, but, his elbow is not supposed to be where it is when he releases the ball. Where his elbow is now is causing like 10 times more stress on his arm. Add that stress in and it’s obvious how his elbow fractured mid pitch. I’m not sure exactly how he can change this and still throw 100, but he has to change it in order to stay healthy. It’s great to throw 100, but if you can’t pitch due to constant injuries, who cares?

Ferrariman
4 years 6 months ago

i think you guys mean “For Todd Jones” not “with Todd Jones”

4 years 6 months ago

“with Todd Jones nearing the end of his career.” I think you read it wrong, that’s grammatically correct.

4 years 6 months ago

Amazing talent, no doubt, but why doesn’t someone just tell him to throw 98mph instead of 105? Granted I’m no pitching coach, but I have to imagine just a little less force/strain will do him wonders as far as staying healthy.

inleylandwetrust
4 years 6 months ago

It would be amazing to get a full season out of him, but that is pretty unlikely. Good thing we won’t be counting on him this season and anything he gives us is just icing on top.

4 years 6 months ago

Was a time when he was a starter in the minors, and the biggest concern was his weight. I wish Zumaya the best, but he’s a classic example of a million-dollar arm, fifty-cent head.

phoenix2042
4 years 6 months ago

makes me wonder if aroldis chapman will last throwing 105. i hope they both manage to avoid breaking their arms with that velocity. it can’t be natural for the arm to do that…

dc21892
4 years 6 months ago

Nope, you’re right. Certainly isn’t natural. What’s so crazy about Chapman is how effortlessly he makes it look.

YanksFanSince78
4 years 6 months ago

That’s the key. He throws like he’s just playing catch. It doesn’t look like maximum effort.

4 years 6 months ago

Did anyone hear that Activision was no longer making ‘Guitar Hero”?

–J. Zumaya

Pawsdeep
4 years 6 months ago

No but I’m sure they put a clause in his contract….

4 years 6 months ago

It seems it will literally be a make or break year. He’ll either make it or he’ll break

Pawsdeep
4 years 6 months ago

Mike illitch needs to feed him stem cells to keep him healthy…

stickyone
4 years 6 months ago

a team would have to be insane to give this guy a multi year deal for big $, even if by some miracle he holds together this year.

Ian_Smell
4 years 6 months ago

Zumaya’s awesome. I hope that I’ll be able to see him play for the Pirates someday.

bomberj11
4 years 6 months ago

You probably will end up seeing him on the Pirates. But you won’t see him playing too much…

East Coast Bias
4 years 6 months ago

But I feel like the last 3 years have all been make or break years for this guy.

damnitsderek
4 years 6 months ago

As will the next three years.

4 years 6 months ago

“Make or break year: Joel Zumaya”

Too easy. Oh well.

more like…make or tear year amirite

4 years 6 months ago

MLBTR adding photos now? I like it.

rbeezy
4 years 6 months ago

I don’t think the Tigers will be using him as often. I think the best idea is to use him for a max 40 innings this year and hopefully they are in a playoff postion and let him fly. That would be the best bullpen in baseball if he stays healthy.

airohpue13
4 years 6 months ago

ya hopefully leyland doesn’t think of him as a guy that can pitch more than one inning anymore.

Chrisn313
4 years 6 months ago

Exactly, sparingly used in the first half may help keep him healthy enough for a playoff push. The guy is pretty nails when his arm isn’t imploding. Really hoping for him back

dc21892
4 years 6 months ago

I’m not saying Chapman doesn’t try to throw as hard as he does. What I’m saying is when you watch him throw, it LOOKS effortless. Clearly, there is a lot of effort involved.