Seemingly lost amid all the story lines about Bryce Harper’s knee, Stephen Strasburgh’s right arm, and the Nationals disappointing .500 season in general has been the ascension of Jordan Zimmermann into the circle of elite pitchers. Zimmermann’s dominance over Major League hitters may not be as overpowering as a guy like Clayton Kershaw or as flashy as a pitcher like Felix Hernandez, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Instead, Jordan Zimmermann suffocates the life out of an opposing lineup by relentlessly pounding the bottom corners of the strike zone with a fastball that hums and a slider that slices. He invites, no he implores batters to hit weak ground outs into guys who know how to flash the leather and he knows how to put a hitter away once he gets the opportunity.
Thursday’s outing against a potent Colorado lineup was just another brilliant start in a season full of them. Zimmermann threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 31 batters he faced and in a display of pinpoint accuracy he delivered strikes on 85 of the 112 pitches he threw (76%). The last time a Nationals’ pitcher threw at least 85 strikes it was back in 2005, the franchise’s inaugural season in Washington when Esteban Loaiza needed 128 pitches to get the job done. That barrage of perfectly located pitches by Zimmermann generated 16 outs in a row at one point and a season-high 9 strikeouts for the Nationals’ righty.
That type of efficiency and consistency has been Zimmermann’s trademark this season. He’s also averaging a scant 1.2 walks per 9 innings, good for 2nd in baseball behind the preposterous Adam Wainwright. Zimmermann’s also been able to go at least 7 innings in 11 of his 15 starts while averaging just 97 pitches per outing, something no other pitcher in baseball is close to doing. Even fellow efficiency monster Wainwright can’t make that boast because he’s tossing 103 pitches per outing.
To put it another way, the average Major League pitcher throws 3.82 pitches per plate appearance, whereas Jordan Zimmermann throws 3.42 pitches per plate appearance, which ranks as the 2nd lowest number in the league, trailing only Bronson Arroyo. Zimmermann’s not only working through opposing lineup’s quickly and efficiently, he’s doing the same to individual hitters as well. All those extra bullets could be a major factor down the stretch if the Nationals can get their season back on track, especially for a guy with a history that includes Tommy John surgery.
The biggest reason for those low pitch counts is Jordan Zimmermann’s approach with his fastball. He attacks hitters in the zone early in the count and often with his heater and for good reason: it’s one of the best in baseball. Zimmermann spins it up there at 93.8 mph according to Fangraphs which is good for 7th fastest in all of baseball and ahead of guys like Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, and Yu Darvish. Hitters just can’t catch up to the pitch either. In 256 at-bats this season, opponents are hitting just .223 against the pitch with 35 strikeouts. Even when batters manage to make contact they’re not doing much more than beating the pitch into the ground for an easy out.
That fastball also has a devastating double effect of making Zimmermann’s other pitches all that much harder to handle. He throws a nice tight curveball at 77 miles per hour and the difference in velocity has been devastating. Batters are hitting .219 against the pitch with 13 strikeouts in 31 at-bats and the scary part is that the curve isn’t even Zimmermann’s 2nd best pitch. No that title’s reserved for his 86-88 mile per hour slider.
That tight, spinning slider bores in on right-hander’s bats and it’s been moving so much this season that it’s become damn near unhittable. Opponent’s are just 16-82 (.195) against the pitch this season with 21 strikeouts. These two breaking balls in tandem with the blazing fastball, give the Nats’ righty three plus pitches to get hitters out. And when a pitcher has complete command over his entire repertoire like Jordan Zimmermann does, all you can do is sit back and enjoy the show.
Originally posted on Highheatstats.com
Big thanks to Baseball-Reference, Brooks-Baseball.net, and Fangraphs for all their statistical help.