Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 2/26/12
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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 yet.

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 triple digit readings. Zoooom!

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