Bradley Zimmer was called up by the Cleveland Indians in May to help solidify their outfield. He was one of the top prospects in Cleveland’s system. Baseball Prospectus had him ranked as the Indians third-best prospect this season. Zimmer brought impressive speed to Cleveland, but also concerns about his ability to handle major-league pitching. These worries made fantasy owners timid to heavily invest in Zimmer early in the year.
However, Zimmer has gone a long way toward answering those concerns. In particular, he’s in the midst of a very successful run at the plate. Zimmer is hitting .440/.500/.840 since July 23, and this has caught the attention of many fantasy owners. This week, Zimmer experienced the second-highest change in ownership rate at ESPN (10.9 percent to 31.8 percent). His ownership rate jumped from 46 percent to 62 percent in CBS leagues. In Yahoo’s latest “Transaction Trends,” Zimmer was the second-most added outfielder, and he’s currently owned in 37 percent of those leagues.
Should you consider investing in Zimmer given his recent play? Are there still reasons to be concerned about his ability to consistently hit at the major-league level? We’ll try and answer those questions in the latest Buyer’s Guide.
There’s a lot to like about Zimmer for fantasy purposes. One of the biggest pluses is his ability to steal bases. Zimmer currently has 13 steals, and given a full season of play it wouldn’t be surprising to see him swipe 30-40 bags. That’s a valuable fantasy commodity, and he has a minor-league track record that shows his ability to steal at this rate (38 in 2016 and 44 in 2015).
Zimmer steals bases while also supplying owners with solid totals in other standard fantasy categories. He’s far from a one-dimensional “speed guy.” Zimmer has seven homers, and over the course of an entire year could tally 15-20. That’s in line with his previous minor-league totals, and it helps to round out his fantasy profile.
Given the concerns regarding Zimmer’s ability to hit, his .279 batting average has been a welcome site for fantasy owners. This average is a nice surprise when compared to most of Zimmer’s averages while in Double and Triple A. There are reasons to believe this won’t hold (see next section), but if Zimmer can keep his average around .270, it’s a nice boost to his fantasy profile.
One of Zimmer’s strongest attributes while in the minors was his ability to draw walks. Zimmer’s walk rate was regularly at or above double digits, and that skill has carried over into the majors. Zimmer is walking 8.8 percent of the time, but it’s worth noting that his monthly walk rate has decreased each month.
As mentioned above, there are a few red flags worth considering when it comes to Zimmer’s fantasy value. He developed a reputation as a hitter who strikes out a lot, and that’s been true during his time in the majors. Zimmer’s strikeout rate is 26.9 percent, and the amount of swing-and-miss in his game will scare off some owners. This will be especially true if Zimmer’s batting average continues to drop. Even with his recent hot streak, his average has dropped every month this season.
Parts of Zimmer’s profile don’t read like a player who would strike out this often. He swings at pitches out of the zone below league average, and his first-pitch strike rate is also just below league average. The Baseball Prospectus prospect team attributed a lot of this swing-and-miss to mechanical issues in Zimmer’s swing. It’s obvious that he has a good eye at the plate given his walk rate and chase numbers, but if he doesn’t change his approach, these strikeout totals are something owners will have to live with.
There’s also the issue of Zimmer’s ability to handle left-handed pitching. Lately, he’s been hitting leadoff for the Indians, but they drop him to the bottom of the order when facing a left-handed pitcher. This was viewed as a significant flaw in Zimmer’s game as he traveled through the minors, but he does seem to be developing in this area. It’s interesting to note that Zimmer’s batting average actually is higher against left-handed pitchers (.286) than right handed pitchers (.277) this season. It’s a small sample, but this hasn’t been quite the problem analysts thought it would be.
Buyer’s Guide: Buy
The steals alone make Zimmer worthy of adding to your fantasy roster in most leagues. That he’s supplying the numbers he does in other fantasy categories makes him an easy addition. He’s going to get regular playing time, and the Indians are going to give him a prominent spot in a potent offense. Zimmer’s average is trending in the wrong direction, so it’s understandable if owners have some hesitation. Still, there aren’t a lot of players who can provide this combination of speed and power.