Grand Cards: The Grand Scheme Is One Pitch Away From Throwing Its Last Pitch

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Grand Scheme Is One Pitch Away From Throwing Its Last Pitch

"Oh my God, that did not just happen." That was Gerald Laird's response to last nights painful-to-watch arm explosion of Joel Zumaya. It's not fair. I don't mean for the fans who loved him, or the team that relied on him or the bullpen that he solidified. It's not fair for Joel Zumaya. For those of you who haven't seen the video you can watch it here and prepare to feel your heart sink.

I was also able to embed a bootlegged version:

Joel Zumaya is Chet Steadman's career compressed into 171 career appearances. He has the whole life cycle of a star pitcher: Emergence, Domination, Decline, Rebirth, Last Hurrah. Except that he's 25 and that apart from his unbelievable 2006, he has been hurt in each subsequent season thanks to Guitar Hero, An Evil Box, a Rogue Finger, a Finicky Shoulder and a Traitorous Elbow (it seems).

With all that said, we don't actually know what's wrong with Zumaya this time. He's having an MRI today to get things checked out. I'm not a doctor, but my guess is that it is going to look like the elbow equivalent of this:

As if the screaming, writhing and hand shaking didn't clue you in, some quotes might flesh out the presumably grim diagnosis:
Catcher Gerald Laird, whose home run in the eighth gave the Tigers a huge insurance run, said he heard a "little pop" when Zumaya threw the last pitch.

"When he let the ball go, something didn't sound good," Laird said.
That's Gerald Laird, who heard something pop from 60'6 away, in the middle of the game, on a pitch that was fouled off. A "little pop" to the catcher is a freaking atomic bomb on the mound. You may also prefer to hear Laird's prognosis of the mystery injury:
It's a little block in the road. In seven or eight months you'll be throwing again and I'm sure I'll be seeing that 96 mph fastball again.
Geez, power of positive thinking huh? We don't know what's wrong and Laird is already predicting that he won't be able to throw for another 7-8 months and that he's going to top out at a relatively pedestrian 96 MPH. I shudder when I think of what someone who actually knows about this stuff might predict.

Jim Leyland, like the rest of us, was blindsided by this and then decided to get all philosophical. From the same Detroit News article:
"There was no indication that anything was wrong (with Zumaya) before tonight," Leyland said. "I don't know that anything was wrong. But I've always said with any pitcher, you are one pitch away from throwing their last pitch."
There's obviously been a lot of news on this at this point and it is just so sad. An as unexpected as it was, especially given the situation, it wasn't that unexpected, was it? I mean, the guy throws over 100 miles per hour. He hit 99 on the fateful pitch last night! And the injuries haven't even seemed to slow him down. In 2006 he threw over 100 MPH 233 times in 2006, ahead of 2nd place Kyle Farnsworth (26 times). Jump to 2008 and it was 18 100 MPH+ pitches (2nd in the Majors) in 2008, in just 21 games. In 2009 the number leapt to 198 times, more than twice the number of Jonathan Broxton, this time in only 29 games (!) before his season ended due to injury. Then comes 2010 and everything seems all peachy keen and Zumaya is back and business and BAM!

And then you realize, that maybe it's not possible for one pitcher to pitch at a speed that is TEN STANDARD DEVIATIONS above the next fastest pitcher. That's right:
how easy is it for your Joe Average hurler to break the aforementioned 100 mph mark? The short answer is that it isn’t:
Season #of 100 mph pitches
2002 106
2003 204
2004 82
2005 134
2006 335

To give an idea of relative magnitude some 3.5 million pitches are tossed in the majors each year of which 75% or so have accurate speed measurements. Two things jump out. First, the very low number of 100+mph pitches (less than 0.01% of all balls pitched), and second, the spike in 100+mph pitches in 2006. Yup, you’ve guessed it; the 2006 spike was caused by the emergence of one man: Joel Zumaya. If we look at pitch speed leaders each year we see that Zumaya was responsible for nearly 70% of the 100+mph fastballs in 2006, and, incredibly, his individual total exceeded the league total in each of the previous four years.
That was a hardball times article written after the 2006 season. Separate injuries in four seasons later and he is still throwing just as hard. It's not possible. The body can't do it. 10 standard deviations doesn't exist in real life, especially not when you're taking a sample of people who are performing at a level that is already 3 standard deviations (or more) above what the average person is capable of doing.

Onto other things, briefly...

VOTE I finally voted my 25 times for Miguel Cabrera to the All Star game. If you don't do this you are a pox on us all. If you do vote, and don't vote for Cabrera you're just insane. Note the stats:

.335 AVG (5th), .412 OBP (3rd), .629 SLG (1st), 20 HR (1st), 66 RBI (1st)

Go Vote Now.

Write Him In Also, while you're voting, why not cast a write in vote for Brennan Boesch? Ignoring the fact that he is easily the best rookie in the major leagues thus far this year (.335/.385/.616, 12 HR, 45 RBI), how about comparing those stats to other AL Outfielders (w/200+ ABs)?

3rd, 8th, 2nd, 6th, 8th.

If that does not an AL All Star make, than what does? Write him in.

I've got to get me one of those The Baltimore Sun has a fantastic article that I read this morning while I was in the company break room waiting for the coffee to brew. It is a major, front page feature searching for the owner of a 1914 Babe Ruth Rookie Card that was loaned to the Babe Ruth Museum years ago. Here's the card, currently on display at the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum:

This is from the 1914 Baltimore News, and only 11 are believed to be in existence. Forbes called this the most valuable card in the world in 2009 and it will be at the centerpiece of a "Groundbreaking" exhibit on baseball cards that the museum is putting together. I've dealt with the director of the museum in my work life in the past, so I may try to get him on the horn and see what they have planned--hopefully in time for The National in August. If not, while you're in town you might want to go and check it out anyway.

Should I sue? Probably not, considering that it makes my life so much easier. I'm talking about the page that launched yesterday on the University of Michigan Athletic Dept. site that tracks all U-M alumni in the Major and Minor Leagues. It's name? Block M In the MLB. So where do I sign up to get my royalties? On the plus side, this means that I no longer need to maintain a tedious spreadsheet and scour minor league game reports to keep up on these sorts of things. That's what unpaid student interns are for. The site is nicely done, and if they can get a Minor League stats feed the way that they have for the MLB guys (which they won't, because MiLB game stats are a pain to find), it would be awesome. If nothing else, it will keep tabs on everyone for me instead of having to do it myself.

Misc. Reminders: Allen & Ginter group CASE break, Grand Cards Trade Away Day 4: Autographs. Also, I don't know why this took me so long, but I'd like to congratulate the ol' alma mater for winning the 2010 State Championship in baseball. They beat division rival Saline, who lost in the championship game for the 3rd straight year. There were tears. I played on this team way back in the pre-championship days along with my friend Bobby, who hassled me into promising a shout out on this blog, which I then didn't give him, leading to more hassling. So take that Bobby. Your first formal e-recognition of our friendship will forever be associated with Pioneer Baseball. How does that feel? Don't mess with someone with editorial control.


  1. WOW, a lot to get to...I feel sorry for Zumaya. I was watching the game on last night...yuk. This guy was having a terrific year.

    Yes, I voted all 25 times for Cabrera, as I did in the N.L. for Pujols.

    I've been championing Brennan Boesch since he started crushing the ball, and yes, please go in and write in his name...all 25 times if you've not already voted, and also, write Brennan's name in for the HR Derby as well.

    p.s...please keep me informed on any Brennan Boesch RC's...thanks.

  2. Sucks for Zumaya, apparently a human arm can't withstand throwing that hard for long without exploding.

    As for Pioneer, it looks like a certain coach finally figured out how to, you know, coach. Which is nice. Also, I think Saline officially becomes the Buffalo Bills (or Atlanta Braves) of Michigan High School Baseball.

    - This isn't Bobby (though that guy sounds awesome)

  3. @Anonymous: yeah, that Bobby is a rather awesome guy.

    @JaxTiger: Still no Boesch rookie card. Allen & Ginter came out today and Basho's not in it, from what I can tell. I expect we'll see him in all of the following, however: Bowman Chrome, Topps 206 and Topps Updates and Highlights later this year.