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May 7, 2013

Pitcher Profile

Jordan Zimmermann and Contact

by Dan Rozenson


Jordan Zimmermann, in a starting rotation with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, doesn’t get much attention. But did you know he led the Nationals pitching staff in quality starts last year? And that he leads the major leagues in WHIP this year? Zimmermann’s path to success, especially so far this year, defies basic sabermetric assumptions and is worth examining more closely.

Zimmermann is built like a power pitcher. He’s a sturdy 6’2”, 220 lbs., and he has a fastball that averages better than 94 mph. He has a hard slider and much-improved curveball as his secondary pitches, as well as an occasional changeup. He has the pure “stuff” to strike out 200 batters a season.

Steve McCatty, Zimmermann’s pitching coach, does not want him to be a strikeout pitcher. McCatty believes that strikeouts are a bad goal for pitchers because they drive up pitch counts, while carefully “pitching to contact” is the correct approach. Zimmermann said recently, “You try to make nasty pitches in the dirt, and if the hitters don’t swing, you get them back in the count and you end up throwing six or seven pitches to a hitter.”

In the offseason, Ben Lindbergh looked at Zimmermann’s high fastball usage, high foul rate, and low strikeout rate, combined with mediocre pitch efficiency, and concluded very reasonably that Zimmermann ought to try using his breaking stuff more and feel free to pitch outside of the strike zone to get more K’s.

On the whole, after all, statistics show McCatty’s assumptions are wrong. But Zimmermann first month this season has mostly been a vindication of the McCatty system.

Zimmermann’s strikeout rate is well below average at 5.5/9 innings and 16 percent of batters overall. A low strikeout rate is bad for pitchers because it places pressure on them to get outs through balls in play, or so the theory goes. Zimmermann has somehow been able to hold batters to a .188 BABIP this year—including a paltry .213 on pitches inside the strike zone. His groundball rate is up to 51 percent this year, from 43 percent last year. He’s also held himself to a tiny walk rate of 1.4/9 innings, or just 4.2 percent.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (05/07)
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Pitcher Profile: Rooki... (04/19)
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Pitcher Profile: Scout... (05/17)
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Premium Article Overthinking It: Evalu... (05/07)

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