Sunday, June 9, 2013
Zimmermann's heater has just the right zip
By Mark Simon
With Stephen Strasburg out, the Washington Nationals have someone else solidifying the role of staff ace—right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.
Zimmermann lowered his 2013 ERA to 2.00 with another dominant outing- seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball with eight strikeouts in a win over the Minnesota Twins.
Zimmermann doesn’t come with quite the hype of Strasburg (he pitched at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point), but he’s in the midst of a terrific run of effectiveness. Let’s go through some of the highlights of it.
Zimmermann has found his comfort zone at Nationals Park.
He’s won his last 11 decisions there, two shy of tying the franchise record for longest home winning streak (the full list is in the chart on the right).
This was the third time this season that Zimmermann had a start in which he pitched at least seven innings, allowing no runs and two hits or fewer.
That’s the most such starts in the majors.
In fact, that is tied for the most such starts in a season in franchise history, matching the mark of two former prominent Expos- Dennis Martinez (1991) and Pedro Martinez (1996).
Earlier this season, Zimmermann had two amazing starts in a row—a one-hit shutout of the Reds and eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball against the Braves. Only one other pitcher had consecutive scoreless appearances of eight innings and two hits or fewer allowed in Nationals/Expos history- Charlie Lea in 1982.
In the last two seasons, Zimmermann is 21-11 with a 2.63 ERA, the latter ranking third best in the majors over that span, trailing Kris Medlen (2.04) and Clayton Kershaw (2.36). His 35 quality starts are tied for the most with Kershaw and R.A. Dickey.
How he wins
Zimmermann succeeds with a fastball that averages about 94 miles-per-hour. He’s not a high-strikeout pitcher (he’s only netting 5.8 per 9 innings this season), but he is a strike-thrower at the highest level. He ranks third in the majors in innings per start, his average one this season last 7 1/3.
The one statistical indicator that Zimmermann’s numbers may be a little bit overachieving would be his batting average on balls in play, which is .230 this season (third-lowest in the majors).
But that’s balanced by his ability to limit hard contact.
Major-league hitters typically hit over .700 on line drives, but Zimmermann has minimized the amount of hard contact against him. By our video review, his 16 percent line-drive rate this season ranks eighth-lowest among ERA-title qualifying pitchers.
Opponents have not been able to power up against Zimmermann’s fastball save for a couple of games this season. He’s held opponents to a .207 batting average and .542 OPS with the pitch, the latter ranking best in the majors.
Zimmermann’s fastball is one that hitters often get tempted into swinging at, only to regret it later on. He’s gotten hitters to chase on nearly one-third of pitches out of the strike zone, a rate within striking distance of Matt Harvey’s dominant high heater, which has a 35 percent chase rate.
Sunday it was that pitch that was the winning pitch, netting him 15 outs and yielding only three baserunners.
Tuesday starts a nine-game road trip for the Nationals, with Zimmermann likely to make his next start in Cleveland.
Zimmermann has a 3.09 ERA on the road this season. In 2012, Zimmermann was a dominant road pitcher, his 2.36 road ERA considerably better than his 3.54 home ERA.
This would be Zimmermann’s first start against the Indians. He’s been unfazed against AL teams in his career, posting a 2.53 ERA in 14 starts against them.