Joel Zumaya is a right-handed pitcher who has pitched for for Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers. He was invited to the Minnesota Twins' spring training in 2012, but, alas, it was not to be (see below). He was born in 1984, and after he graduated from Bonita Vista High School in 2002, the Tigers selected him in the eleventh round of the 2002 MLB amateur draft. He signed his first professional baseball contract about a week later and was then promptly shuttled off to Lakeland, Florida to join the GCL Tigers rookie team.
Over the course of the next five seasons, Joel advanced through the Tigers' minor league system as a starting pitcher. His last stop was in Toledo, Ohio, with the Mud Hens, in 2005. The following spring, he made the Tigers' opening day roster out of spring training as a relief pitcher. He was an integral part of the 2006 season for the American League champion Tigers, quickly settling into the setup-man role behind closer Todd Jones. All told, he appeared in 62 games and posted a very impressive 1.94 ERA, a good two and a half runs better than that year's league average ERA, while holding opposing hitters to an embarrassing .187 batting average.
Joel's persona is very like his pitching ability; he plays the game with an insatiable sense of excitement, getting really into it. If he wasn't a very good pitcher, his antics would be a cause for groans and eye-rolling from baseball fans (see John Rocker, who possessed a similar enthusiasm but ended up driving it into the ground during an unremarkable career). On numerous occasions, his fastball has been clocked at 103 MPH, which ties the official MLB record for fastest recorded pitch. He's lit up the radar gun with pitches ranging from 104 to 107 MPH, although 104 MPH is the fastest he's had a pitch clocked in a major league stadium (the faster pitches were clocked during spring training). His wrists are tattooed with flames to heighten this aspect of his ability. He also throws a change-up, a decent curveball, and a very deceptive knuckle-curve, an unusual pitch for a power pitcher to throw.
With great power comes great... fragility?
Thus far, Zumaya's 2006 season has been his only full one, and even during the 2006 season, the injury bug was already nipping at him. Unbelievably, he sat out for a week in September of that year after getting a repetitive stress injury while playing the video game Guitar Hero. Early during the 2007 season, a tendon in his right index finger was ruptured, and that put him on the disabled list for almost four months while it healed. Thus, he was limited to only 28 games in 2007, and he was more or less ineffective while he struggled to regain the form that had lead to such great success the previous season. As if that wasn't enough, after the season, he was at his parents' home in California, helping them to evacuate boxes of stuff in advance of the wildfires that were headed in its direction, when one box, weighing about 50 pounds, fell from a shelf and landed on his right shoulder, separating it. The shoulder was operated on in October and the rehab it required cut short his 2008 season.
The Tigers were making their push for the playoffs when Joel's Guitar Hero troubles were occurring, leading MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann to name him the "Worst Person in the World." Since then, Guitar Hero 2 has been released; the Xbox 360 version includes a note that says "No pitchers were harmed in the making of this game. Except for one: Joel Zumaya. He had it coming." Even though I consider myself a fan of the Tigers (I'm from Detroit, after all), I can't help but laugh at how absurd this all is, and I wonder what will come next for Zumaya, who seems to have quite a knack for finding new and inventive ways of hurting himself.
Anyway, assuming that Joel can get back on track and avoid exotic injuries in the future, he seems poised to have a very productive career in Major League Baseball. When he's healthy, he and teammate Justin Verlander (who can also pitch above 100 MPH consistently) form a practically indominable 1-2 punch for the Tigers' pitching staff. The 2008 Tigers are (on paper) one of the most offensively potent lineups ever, with one of the most solid starting rotations in recent years. Their bullpen, however, was (theoretically) the only question mark.
In late June, Zumaya finally returned from rehabbing his shoulder. He looked remarkably like his former self, settling back into the sub-2.00 ERA form of his rookie year, for a few weeks. Then in mid-August, he returned to the disabled list with soreness in his surgically-repaired right shoulder, which turned out to be scar tissue that formed while healing from surgery detaching, taking him out for the rest of the 2008 season. Inevitable, I suppose.
Zumaya started the 2009 season off with a bang—by being placed on the disabled list with shoulder soreness on March 27, and the team left him in Lakeland when they went north after spring training, leaving Zumaya in extended spring training.
At about the 2009 All-Star break in mid-July and after a series of terrible outings in which he blew several leads, Zumaya complained of stiffness in his right shoulder, which turned out to be a loose chunk of bone from a previous operation on that shoulder. To the surprise of absolutely no one, he's out for the rest of the season. Maybe next year, Joel.
The 2010 season seemed to bring back the 2006-era Joel Zumaya; he appeared in over 30 games for the first time since then and had an ERA hovering around 2.00 all season until the end of June, when he fractured his right olecranon (the bony part of the elbow felt just beneath the skin) while delivering a pitch to Minnesota's Delmon Young. Reportedly, catcher Gerald Laird could hear it pop from 60 feet away. This cancels the rest of Zumaya's 2010 season. Indeed, the Tigers and Zumaya avoided salary arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract, giving him another chance to seriously injure himself in an unlikely manner sometime around mid-season.
Halfway through 2011's spring training season, the Tigers announced that Zumaya would be staying in extended spring training when the team leaves for Detroit at the end of March. So for the second time, he doesn't make the opening day roster. The official reason is that his surgically-repaired elbow is still a little squeaky. Prior to the announcement, he hadn't pitched in any spring training games. The day before the season started, Zumaya was placed on the 15-day disabled list. Again! Three weeks later, he was moved to the 60-day disabled list with elbow pain, again.
He remained on the 60-day disabled list all season long, not throwing a single pitch in 2011. He missed the whole season. Shocking, eh?
Zumaya signed as a free agent with the Tigers' divison rival, the Minnesota Twins, during the 2011-12 offseason. He won't end up pitching for them, however, after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in spring training. He has opted for Tommy John surgery and hopes to pitch again at some point in the future.
Watch this space for further updates about the life and times of Joel "Maybe Next Year" Zumaya.
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, the comprehensive Joel Zumaya Injury Report:
- September 2006: Too much Guitar Hero leaves Joel with a repetitive stress injury. He sits out a week while recovering.
- May 5, 2007: A tendon in his right middle finger tears while he warms up in the bullpen before a game. He spends fourteen weeks on the disabled list while it heals.
- October 2007: A 60 pound box falls from a shelf onto his right shoulder, separating it. He has surgery on it and spends the next eight months rehabbing it. He's taken off the disabled list on June 20, 2008 after having missed all of the 2008 season up to that date.
- August 12, 2008: Scar tissue in his surgically repaired right shoulder breaks up, causing new pain. This finishes his 2008 season and keeps him from playing until April 25, 2009.
- July 17, 2009: A bone fragment in his right shoulder "pops" during a game against the Yankees, necessitating surgery to remove the fragment. This finishes his 2009 season. It heals in time for spring training in 2010 and he makes the team.
- June 28, 2010: The olecranon bone in his right elbow breaks as he throws a pitch during a game against the Twins. This finishes his 2010 season. Luckily for him, it was a clean break and there was no ligament damage.
- March 30, 2011: Lingering elbow pain, occurring without a known cause, lands him on the 15-day disabled list.
- April 19, 2011: Continuing elbow pain, made worse when he throws, prevents him from coming off the 15-day disabled list. As such, he is transferred to the 60-day disabled list.
- May 4, 2011: It was announced that Joel would have exploratory surgery on his right elbow. He misses the 2011 season in its entirety while recovering.
- February 26, 2012: Thirteen pitches into his first live batting practice session of the spring, Zumaya tears the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He opted for Tommy John surgery. This finishes his 2012 season and leaves his future career in baseball doubtful.
Total number of season-ending injuries: 4
Total number of missed seasons: 3
Height/weight: 6'3", 220 lbs.
Birthdate/place: November 9, 1984 in Chula Vista, California
Uniform number: 54
Joel's brother Richard Zumaya was also drafted by the Tigers (2007). He, too, is a pitcher.
Joel made a fan of United States president George W. Bush, who, with his trademark cluelessness, refers to him as "Zumala." ... Your guess is as good as mine.
Pictures of Joel Zumaya doing a keg stand ... make of them what you will. Great way to rehab an injury, am I right?