The Minnesota Twins, synonymous with low-velocity, control-and-command pitchers, took a flyer on Monday on a reliever whose approach couldn't be more diametrically opposed to that organizational philosophy. The Twins signed Joel Zumaya to a one-year, $800,000 deal with another $900K in possible incentives.
Any conversation about the now-27-year-old righty starts with radar gun readings and surgical scars. Last we saw Zumaya, he unleashed a 99 mph fastball to Delmon Young at Target Field on June 28, 2010. Zumaya doubled over in pain, shook his arm and then lay prostrate in the infield grass, having fractured his elbow. That was just the latest injury in a Brothers Karamazov-sized medical file that also includes a pair of shoulder surgeries and a ruptured tendon in his middle finger.
Zumaya threw for upwards of 20 teams in December and reportedly reached the mid-90s with his blessed-yet-cursed fastball. Yet despite his ethereal fastball velocity and the oohs and aahs that come along with triple-digit readings, Zumaya has never been anyone's idea of a relief ace. In 209.2 innings pitched dating back to 2006, he has a quality K rate (23.1 percent of batters faced, compared to 18-20% for relievers over that time frame) but also an inflated walk rate (12.5%, versus the 9-10% average).
However, Zoom Zoom was starting to look more pitcher than thrower in 2010 before his elbow went kaboom. His percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone spiked to well above the big league average for relievers:
|Year||Zone Pct.||League Avg.|
Zumaya's strikeout rate suffered slightly with more in-zone pitches (21.8 K%), but he more than made up for it with a career-low 7.1% walk rate. He missed to the arm side frequently in 2008-2009...
But he decided to throw right down the pike more often in 2010, daring hitters to time his heat...
It was just 38 innings, of course, and there's no telling how Zumaya controls his pitches after surgery to fix a fractured bone at the tip of his elbow in July of 2010 and then a follow-up procedure in May of 2011 to replace a screw in his elbow. The cost to the Twins is minimal, though, and any team that considers Matt Capps as its closer can use a fistful of hard-throwing lottery tickets like Zumaya.