Baseball's 6 Hardest Throwers That Never Amounted to Anything
When pitchers start to develop their craft, the fastball is usually the first pitch they develop. A great fastball can get a pitcher attention among the baseball world and have fans and scouts debating your bright future.
However, just because someone can bring the heat does not guarantee them a long and successful career in baseball. This list consists of six pitchers who could light up the radar gun but were not able to have much success in Major League Baseball.
Todd Van Poppel
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In the summer of 1990, Todd Van Poppel was the top pitching prospect in the country and was drawing comparisons to Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens, according to this article in 1990 from Sports Illustrated.
The Atlanta Braves had the No. 1 pick in the MLB draft that year and were trying their hardest to sell the organization to Van Poppel. The high school pitcher wasn't listening and told them he would not sign with them. It worked out for Atlanta in the end, though, as they decided to go with Chipper Jones with their pick.
Van Poppel ended up getting drafted with the 14th overall pick by the Oakland A's and was fast tracked through the minors. He made his major league debut in 1991 and his career went downhill quickly.
He played for six different teams over an 11-year career, finishing with a career record of 40-52 with an ERA of 5.58. Unfortunately for him, his blazing fastball did not equal major league success.
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The New York Mets selected Paul Wilson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1994 draft and quickly had formed Generation K. This group also included Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher, who were supposed to be three aces that would bring the Mets a number of wins. Needless to say, it did not go as planned.
One of the reasons Wilson was drafted so high was because of his hard-throwing fastball, but the Mets were not able to see it for long. He tried to throw his fastball so hard in his first season that he ended up doing severe damage and tore cartilage in his shoulder.
He ended up having to have shoulder surgery and in May 1997, Wilson was quoted in an article by Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated stating:
"I can't guarantee I'll be the same pitcher, with a hard fastball in the mid-90s for seven, eight innings. But if I have to throw in the mid-80s, I'll make the adjustment. I'm realistic."
He was never the same pitcher and struggled making that adjustment. He spent seven years in the majors with three different teams. He has a career record of 40-58 and only had one year with a record better than .500. That happened in 2004 with the Cincinnati Reds when he went 11-6.
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Many will remember Joel Zumaya for ending up on the DL for a sore wrist from playing too much Guitar Hero but he had one of the hardest fastballs in the history of baseball.
According to Fangraphs, Zumaya's average speed on his fastball was 98.5 mph and the last two seasons he pitched, 2009 and 2010, he averaged a speed of 99.3 mph.
Zumaya has had a number of injuries the past few seasons and recently had to have Tommy John surgery in 2012 as a member of the Minnesota Twins. His career stats currently sit at 13-12 with a 3.05 ERA but as Paul Wilson showed, it is very hard to come back.
Some surgeries, like Tommy John, are especially tough for pitchers and to come back throwing as hard as they did prior to the injury.
The reason he made this list was because of how short his career is and his struggles to stay healthy. Joel Zumaya still has a chance to turn it around, though, if he can come back from surgery, but he may have to change his pitching style to be effective.
Photo Courtesy of the Seattle Times Company
This article by Steve Treder for Hardballtimes.com does an excellent job of summarizing the career of Steve Dalkowski. Included in the article are quotes from some of baseball greats, including Earl Weaver, Ted Williams and Cal Ripken Sr. trying to explain just how fast Dalkowski was able to throw a baseball.
He spent nine seasons in the minors and spent the majority of his time in the Baltimore farm system. Dalkowski, though, was never able to make it the majors, mainly due to his lack of pitch control. He has career marks of 11.8 walks and only 3.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
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Geoff Goetz was selected by the New York Mets with the sixth overall pick in the 1997 MLB draft because of a top-notch fastball. Most fans will remember him though as being one of the players traded to the Marlins for Mike Piazza in 1998.
Goetz was never able to crack a major league roster, spending time in the Mets, Marlins and Yankees organizations over a nine-year career. The highest level he reached was Double-A, but by this time, he had changed roles from starter to reliever.
He ended his career with a 22-20 record and an ERA of 3.64 after spending two seasons playing in independent leagues for the Nashua Fire.
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Matt Anderson's story does not even compare to Joel Zumaya's DL trip when it comes to bizarre injury stories. Anderson was a promising reliever with the Detroit Tigers and was regularly throwing pitches over the 100-mph mark.
Then came May 2002 when Anderson took part in a promotional event where people had the chance to throw octopus into a bucket for a chance to win playoff hockey tickets.
Everything seemed fine until later that night, when Anderson went to the bullpen to warm up and tore a muscle in his armpit.
Anderson denies the two acts are a result of one another, but the injury derailed Anderson's career and he was never able to throw heat like he used to. After going 5-1 with a 3.72 ERA before the injury, he finished with a 10-6 record and an ERA close to five over the final 215 games of his career.
In 2011, he tried to make a comeback with the Philadelphia Phillies, but never got his chance to pitch in the majors.