A Real Fastball

Relief pitchers throw hard. This isn’t news. Jonathan Broxton, Brian Wilson, Matt Lindstrom, and Mark Lowe all average 96 MPH+ with their fastballs. Angel Guzman throws a 90 MPH slider. These guys are big, power arms who come in and light up radar guns. And compared to Joel Zumaya, they throw like nine year olds.

See, Zumaya’s average fastball this year is 99.4 MPH according to BIS, 99.1 MPH according to Pitch F/x. In fact, I’m going to just stop writing and show you a picture.


That’s Zumaya’s velocity chart over the last three years on a game by game basis. Look at the recent averages, then notice that they’re above the blue line that marks 100 MPH. Of late, Zumaya’s average fastball has been faster than 100 MPH. His average fastball.

This is just nutty. In his last appearance against the A’s, his fastballs went like this.

99.7 (I guess he took a little off)

12 fastballs, with an average velocity of 100.9 MPH. And he didn’t strike anybody out. In fact, he didn’t strike anyone out in the appearance before that, either, when he threw 25 fastballs that averaged 100.6 MPH. Despite throwing as hard as anyone ever has, it isn’t helping him much. Here’s Zumaya’s line for June, when he just started hitting triple digits on nearly every pitch.

10 1/3 IP, 12 H, 2 HR, 14 BB, 10 K, 8.43 FIP

As his fastball has edged up in velocity, his command has gone away entirely, and he’s been a Triple-A level reliever. Compare that with his 12 appearances in April/May, when he threw 16 innings, allowed 15 hits, walked 2, and struck out 15 for a 3.33 FIP. In his best outing of the year (May 19th vs Texas), he threw 10 fastballs and cracked 100 just once. He recorded three outs on 11 pitches, eight of which were strikes.

For Zumaya, there appear to be diminishing returns associated with his velocity. 99 with location is an awful lot better than 101 with no idea where it’s going. For his sake, and really for baseball’s sake, let’s hope the Tigers can help him ease back off the fastball a little bit. The game could really use a fun to watch relief ace who can hit 100 whenever he wants come October. It is less enjoyable to see him walk the world throwing 102.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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12 years ago

Guzman throws a 90 mph CUTTER not a Slider

12 years ago
Reply to  matthew

It’s moderately enjoyable to see how adamant you are about this cutter. I guess it depends how you judge a pitch. Do you judge a pitch based on movement, or based on grip?

A lot of pitchers get upset when you call their sliders curveballs, and on and on.

To me, a pitch does what it does, I don’t care how you grip it or how you name it.