Can Jordan Zimmermann keep getting batters to hit into outs?
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.
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The Rangers and Giants will probably both be playoff teams, but two other virtual locks for October, the Yankees and Nationals, made them look bad last night.
The Monday Takeaway
According to the playoff odds as of Tuesday morning, the Rangers are virtually certain to (99.5 percent) be dancing in October, and the Giants have more than a puncher’s chance (58.4 percent). Twelve hours earlier, the Yankees and Nationals, respectively, made them look like bona fide pretenders.
In the Bronx, Ryan Dempster retired the first six Yankees he faced, allowing the Rangers offense to build a 2-0 lead. Then, someone moved batting practice to the bottom of the third inning, and Nick Swisher highlighted the five-run session with a four-run missile into the second deck. The grand slam was Swisher’s 200th career home run, but it had nothing on this 441-foot, sixth-inning blast off the bat of Eric Chavez. And, as if those two bombs weren’t enough, Derek Lowe—fresh off the scrap heap and straight into mop-up duty—needed only 44 pitches to cruise through four innings and earn his first save since 2001. A game Texas led 2-0 ended 8-2 the other way, and the Yankees surged a half-game ahead in the race for the American League’s number-one seed.
The Tigers' three-star strategy has not been working out so far.
The Wednesday Takeaway
Two months ago, when the offseason was winding down and every team’s slate was still clean, the Detroit Tigers were the trendy pick to win the AL Central. Indeed, if you went by ESPN’s predictions—made by a diverse group of 50 analysts and pundits, ranging from former managers and players to insiders like Buster Olney to our own Kevin Goldstein, from all corners of the country—the Tigers were the only choice. Each and every one of the 50 picked Jim Leyland’s team to sit atop the division standings come October 3.
But after last night’s 9-6 loss, the Tigers are 25-31, six games back, and trailing both the White Sox and the Indians, who are separated by half a game and tied in the loss column. Presented with a chance to gain ground on Cleveland in a three-game series at Comerica Park, Detroit has dropped the first two and will rely on rookie Casey Crosby to play stopper in his second major-league start this afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET).
The Mets and Nationals had a hard time keeping with the easy storylines on Tuesday night.
The Tuesday Takeaway
After five innings of last night’s series opener between the Mets and Nationals, the home team led 3-0 and the game story was simple: Jordan Zimmermann outshines Chris Young in Young’s 2012 debut, as Washington extends its NL East lead. That last clause still rang true at the end of the 12-inning marathon, but by the time the Nats walked off with a 7-6 win, the beat writers in the Nationals Park press box had written, backspaced, written, backspaced, and written again.
The Mets homered twice in the top of the sixth inning, saddling Zimmermann—who had allowed only two home runs in his first seven starts—with his sixth and seventh gopher balls in four outings since. Then, Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen teamed up in the top of the eighth for the first of three blown saves by the two bullpens, allowing the visitors to pull ahead 4-3, before Tim Byrdak and Frank Francisco coughed up a run in the bottom half of the frame.
The Nationals rotation throws harder than any staff in baseball has over the past few seasons, and that just might win them the NL East.
The Washington Nationals haven’t hit very well this season: their .252 TAv ranks ninth in the National League. They haven’t run very well, either: they rank third from last in the big leagues in Baserunning Runs (-2.2). Nonetheless, the Nats have an 11-4 record, good for first place in the National League East and the third-best record in baseball, behind only the 11-2 Rangers and the 11-3 Dodgers. In a tight division like the NL East, a quick start can improve a team’s playoff odds significantly. The Nats’ chances of making the playoffs have risen from 7.9 percent before their first game to 19.2 percent today.
How have the Nats succeeded, if not by outslugging their opponents or regularly taking the extra base? The source of the team’s success has been defense and pitching—starting pitching, in particular. Before Edwin Jackson allowed five runs in five innings against the Astros on Thursday night, no Nats starter had allowed more than four runs in an outing. Through the team’s first 13 games, the starting rotation produced nine quality starts with a 1.65 ERA and a 2.20 RA, by far the best marks in baseball.