January 24, 2013
The Keeper Reaper
Starting Pitching for 1/24/13
There’s no general theme for today’s Keeper Reaper; instead, I’m going big with a pair of 500-word breakdowns on a pair of intriguing National Leaguers.
The oft-underrated second fiddle to Stephen Strasburg started to get noticed with his big 2012. Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Zimmermann finally put in a full season with 32 starts, 196 innings, and some impressive results. His 2.94 ERA was baseball’s 10th-best mark among qualified starters; while he was 20th in WHIP, his 1.17 mark was actually the 13th-lowest figure if you count ties.
With a 94-mph four-seamer and 87-mph slider, Zimm has the stuff and pedigree to be a heavy strikeout guy, but he believes that strikeouts run his pitch count up too high and cost him innings (though, in general, strikeouts don’t actually elevate pitch counts). As he discussed in this 2011 interview, conducted after his fifth start of the season when he had registered just 14 strikeouts in nearly 30 innings, he is more than content working for a groundball out instead. It was more of the same in 2012; his strikeout rate stayed almost exactly the same (19 percent, which is league average for starters). His groundball rate jumped four percent to 43 percent while his fly-ball rate tumbled from 42 to 33 percent.
Despite his insistence that he is completely fine eschewing strikeouts for groundballs, we know there is an extra reserve of strikeout potential in that arm, not only because we saw it in his 91-inning rookie season when he fanned 92 but also because we saw him use them as a weapon in the second-half. In the first-half, he fanned about 16 percent of the batters he faced with a 50 percent groundball rate but flipped in the second-half, striking out 22 percent of batters with just a 36 percent groundball rate. For the record, his 2.77 first-half ERA bested his 3.11 in the second-half.
Perhaps he wanted to prove his point about pitch conservation just to make sure he was right. He averaged nearly 6 2/3 innings per outing in the first half, disposing of batters in 3.6 pitchers per plate appearance. The innings dropped to 5 2/3 per outing in the second half while the P/PA jumped a half pitch to 4.1. It may not seem like much, but over a full season it could be another 30 innings and a difference of nearly 400 pitches on his arm. Of course, it’s not necessarily the added strikeouts that caused the lessened efficiency. It’s much more likely that the reduced groundball rate and the increased walk rate (1.8 to 2.2 BB/9) are the culprits.