January 22, 2013
Tuesday, January 22
Nationals open to long-term extensions for Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann
As The Washington Post’s James Wagner wrote, the Nationals settled six of their seven arbitration cases on Friday and have previously entertained the idea of a long-term extension with the seventh eligible player. That lone exception is the 26-year-old Zimmermann, who—after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2009—was finally liberated from the organization’s now-infamous kid gloves and crossed the 30-start threshold for the first time in his young career. Both Zimmermann and Desmond, who agreed to a $3.8 million paycheck to forgo his hearing, are under Washington’s control through the 2015 season, but Rizzo told Wagner that he is “definitely open-minded about” making a longer-term commitment to each of them.
Zimmermann seems a particularly logical candidate for an extension, because of the clear risk-reward tradeoff for both parties. The right-hander emerged as one of the league’s best starters in 2012, amassing 3.5 WARP over 32 trips to the mound, and he was one of only six pitchers who were worth three wins to their clubs despite logging fewer than 200 innings. The other five—Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, and Zimmermann’s teammates, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez—were all either making their major-league debut, coming off of an injury, or, like Zimmermann, enjoying a breakout year.
Armed with one of the hardest fastballs (94.6 mph) among starting pitchers, Zimmermann basically uses a three-pitch mix, with an even count of sliders and curveballs to left-handed batters and a heavy dose of sliders to his fellow righties. Few starters are able to get by without a changeup because of resulting woes versus opposite-handed hitters, but Zimmermann’s breaking stuff is effective enough for him to buck that rule: He threw 501 curves and sliders to lefties last year, and only one of them left the yard.
The only lingering question is whether Zimmermann, now more than three years removed from surgery, can maintain his 2012 performance level over an expanded workload. Zimmermann’s greatest asset, to go with his arsenal, is excellent control; he walked only 5.3 percent of the batters that he faced last season, while striking out 19.0 percent. Here’s the list of starters who matched or exceeded those rates and pitched at least 210 innings in 2012: Cliff Lee, Johnny Cueto, Jake Peavy, Matt Cain, R.A. Dickey, Felix Hernandez, and Cole Hamels (Madison Bumgarner, Homer Bailey, and CC Sabathia narrowly missed the innings minimum). A modest increase in durability would put Zimmermann squarely in the elite class of starters, and a few more missed bats could put a Cy Young award in his future.