The Detroit Tigers’ “Z Factor”

They have made deals and signed free agents based on his one solid season. His major league debut was electric and set the tone for the 2006 Tigers triumphs. His fastball represents this city with its blue collar approach and need for speed. From all reports, Joel Zumaya is pitching with zip and pitching pain-free. The only question remains whether he will be a factor this entire season for the Tigers.

For Zumaya, this is as close to a contract year as it comes. Todd Jones, Fernando Rodney and now Jose Valverde have occupied the post that Zumaya should have. When he made appearance after appearance in 2006, his results demonstrated that he should be the closer-in-waiting, but one freak accident after another made his role significantly limited since early 2007. Tigers fans are keeping their fingers crossed that enough bad news has already hit Zumaya and his golden, flame-throwing arm.

Remember Matt Anderson? He demonstrated what can happen to a good arm when it is overworked, pushed too hard and down right overrated. The number one draft pick was there with Jeff Weaver and Francisco Cordero to welcome Tiger Stadium’s home plate to Comerica Park. Now, entering his mid-30s, he toils around in White Sox camp with the fleeting hopes that he’ll see the big show again.

We’ll know very quickly this season whether Zumaya becomes closer to his own self of ’06 or the Anderson version of over a decade ago. He continues to look slimmer every time he is photographed, and that hair covered smile continues to resonate with photo editors. If the Tigers are going to make some real noise this offseason, they’ll need as much as they can get from Joel Zumaya.