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Monday, January 16, 2012

Arming Themselves? The Addition of Joel Zumaya

The Twins made a fascinating move yesterday, adding righty reliever Joel Zumaya with a 1 year pact that guarantees him $800,000 but could net him up to $1.8 million depending on the performance incentives he reaches.

Zumaya potentially gives the Twins what they lacked in 2011 and have not had since Jesse Crain, a truly dominant right handed, late inning reliever. I say potentially because of Zumaya’s history of injuries, both innocuous and horrifying. The fractured elbow he received following a pitch to Delmon Young at Target field in June of the 2010 season will be fresh in the minds of Twins fans as a truly shocking image, but Zumaya has had his fair share of unfortunate luck too, injuring himself playing Guitar Hero in 2006 (sadly not a joke), and dropping a 50lb box which separated his pitching shoulder in 2007.

There is something truly alarming about a pitching action so violent as to be able to cause a bone fracture. After Francisco Liriano’s elbow injury in 2006 against the Oakland As that led to Tommy John surgery, pitching coach Rick Anderson worked tirelessly with Liriano in smoothening out his throwing action to make is less violent and place less stress on his pitching arm; hopefully the same can be achieved for Zumaya.

While it is certainly a worry signing a pitcher with such a history of injuries to a roster already laden with questions marks surrounding its health, Zumaya’s upside is huge. In 2001, his rookie season (and the only one he has remained healthy for) he allowed a WHIP of 1.21 with a BB/9 of 4.5, underlining how dominant he was despite his lack of control. His SO/9 that season was an eye-popping 10.5 and he has maintained a similarly dominant career SO/9 of 9 – a figure which might have Twins fans dying of shock if he can stay healthy throughout the 2012 season. When Zumaya worked out for around 20 teams in attendance this winter he was routinely hitting 93-95 mph with his fastball, a few mph slower than his days with the Tigers but still potentially overpowering stuff and a sacrifice Twins fans would more than willingly make in order to see him pitch a full season.

If Zumaya does not pan out the Twins are not on the hook for much salary, so this risk is certainly one worth taking. Let us hope that Terry Ryan can cement this potentially excellent addition with that of either Dan Wheeler or Todd Coffey, as has been widely speculated over in recent weeks. Zumaya has an excellent opportunity in a ballpark which will suit him but the Twins would do well to cover their backs with one final bullpen addition in case (as has happened the previous 4 seasons) Zumaya cannot stay off the DL.

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