An Oft-Injured Joel Zumaya is Well Worth The Risk


There was some discussion among bloggers and fans this offseason whether or not the Tigers would bring back the injury-prone Joel Zumaya for another year. The general consensus was that they would (or rather, should) either offer him salary arbitration or simply negotiate a new contract. Either way, we all said, it’s definitely worth the risk of bringing him back.

Yesterday we found out that the Tigers (and Zumaya) were thinking along the same lines, as the two sides reached an agreement for a one-year contract.

The terms of the deal ($1.4 million) may seem like a lot for a sixth year pitcher who has only been healthy enough to complete a full season once, but I don’t think it is. At least, not in this particular case.

Zumaya has suffered a lifetime’s worth of arm injuries in his (relatively) short career with the Tigers. Each time he hit the disabled list, we were all left wondering if it his dominating velocity would forsake him, but it never did. In fact, according to Pitch f/x data, his average fastball velocity has actually increased slightly over the years.

His resilience to the barrage of injuries have all given us reason to believe that he is indeed that much of a freak of nature.

But it’s not his unique ability to fully recover that makes him valuable (obviously the team would be better off if he stayed healthy), it’s his dominating performances on the mound.

After finally becoming a complete pitcher (not just a thrower) Joel was turning in his finest season as a Tiger in 2010 before the injury. In only 31 appearance (38.1 innings), he had accumulated 1.0 WAR (fWAR). In order to “buy” one marginal win above replacement on the free agent market, a team would have to spend about $5 million this offseason. In order for us to say that the Tigers made a “good deal” in bringing Zumaya back, he’ll have to accumulate all of about 0.3 WAR. He’s reached that WAR total in three of his five seasons with the club.

Sure, there are risks involved. He may not ever fully recover, he may get injured again, he may lose his velocity, he may be ineffective, but there’s plenty of upside. He has the natural abilities to allow him to be one of the more dominating relievers in the American League.

$1.4 million is a lot of money to invest into a risky project, but this was a risk the Tigers needed (and could afford) to take.