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Player Profile #80: Jordan Zimmermann | SP | WAS

Despite seeing his ERA rise from 2.94 to 3.25, Jordan Zimmermann took some pretty massive steps forward last year:

  • Pitched 17.2 more innings despite starting the same number of games (32)
  • Increased his wins from 12 to 19 (not totally a fluke, high IP/GS leads to more wins)
  • Decreased his BB% from 5.3 to 4.6
  • Decreased his LD% from 23.2 to 21.1
  • Increased his GB% from 43.4 to 47.6
  • Increased his IFFB% from 9.7 to 11.0

Unfortunately, for the third straight year Zimmermann saw his ERA rise in the second half. ¬†Interestingly, in all three instances Zimmermann has seen both his K% and BB% increase in the second half. Is he changing his pitch usage in such a way that he’s moving away from contact and therefore inducing more strikeouts and walks?

I spent about 20 minutes sorting through just about everything I could find on BrooksBaseball.net, and no one thing really stood out to me. This is the best explanation I could find: Zimmermann’s decreased horizontal movement as the year wears on.

Zimmermann Horizontal Movement

Zimmermann’s slider and curveball don’t move as much as he racks up the innings. (Courtesy BrooksBaseball.net).

That explains Zimmermann’s career second half BA (.261) far exceeding his first half mark (.237), and it might explain why his walk rate is higher (pitches don’t break into the zone or he begins nibbling because they’re hitting him harder), but what about the Ks? Why are those consistently higher in the second half?

For that, I credit the improvement of one pitch each season. What’s confusing though is that it’s never the same pitch. Seriously, take a look at the following chart, which shows Zimmermann’s whiffs/swing over the last three years. Do you see which pitches are getting better?

Zimmermann Whiff Rates

Zimmermann’s whiff rates by year. (Courtesy BrooksBaseball.net)

In 2011 it was his four-seamer, in 2012 it was his curveball, and in 2013 is was his slider. (His change-up was removed to simplify the chart since he doesn’t throw it often.) The rest of the pitches stay pretty stable all year minus a few ups and downs here and there, but each year one pitch gets better in terms of whiff rate.

What does this mean for 2014? Honestly, probably not a ton as Zimmermann hasn’t really varied his repertoire much over the years. The whiff rate chart shows a small annual improvement in whiff rate almost across the board, which tells me his stuff is getting better, but you could also argue that conclusion is negated by the decline in his movement chart.

Zimmermann is who he is, but I think it’s important to know that there’s the potential for a nice strikeout breakout. I wouldn’t expect 8.0 K/9, but the mid-to-high 7.0s is definitely a possibility.

At A Glance

  • Strengths:¬†IP, W, ERA, WHIP, BB/9
  • Neutral: L, K
  • Weaknesses: K/9

Players With Similar Fantasy Value

2014 Fantasy Baseball Projection

2014 Projection: 207 IP, 16 W, 0 SV, 167 K, 3.30 ERA, 1.13 WHIP

Overall Rank: 80 | SP Rank: 16

Zimmermann offers a fantastic ERA and WHIP and has now proven he can survive beyond 200 innings.

The Nationals have some kind of rotation, don’t they? Between Stephen Strasburg (rank TBD), Zimmermann (16), Gio Gonzalez (19), and Doug Fister (30), Washington probably has the best fantasy rotation in baseball. I’m not sure that serves to make Zimmermann any more affordable in drafts or auctions this year, but it could (you know your league better than I do).

Regardless, Zimmermann offers a fantastic ERA and WHIP and has now proven he can survive beyond 200 innings. With his career trends it might make sense to target him aggressively in drafts and look to trade him come June (like we suggested with Dan Haren years ago).

His career trends also make him a more worrisome H2H play where you may be getting the hittable Zimmermann as your fantasy playoffs approach, but in roto leagues I don’t see a problem with the second half swoon. You get three great months and then if you can’t trade him, you get three not-so-great months. It’s not ideal keeping a struggling player in your rotation in the second half, but if you draft him according to his end-of-year stats, you can’t complain when he has some great starts followed by some bad ones as long as he ends up at the expected finishing line.

2015 & Beyond

I still think there’s room for Zimmermann to improve his K rate. If he’s able to do that, then we’re looking at a potential high-end SP2 whose value probably falls a little shy of Cole Hamels (Hamels has a higher K%). Zimmermann’s contract takes him through 2015 with the Nationals, but I think he can be a great pitcher no matter where he plays.

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