Revisiting Jordan Zimmermann

There was a two or three week stretch in the offseason where the Rotographs crew split up as many starting pitchers as we could cover and gave them some individual attention. Today I want to revisit one of the guys I covered, Jordan Zimmermann.

In my offseason post on Zimm, I noted how consistent his numbers had been from 2011-2013 aside from his win total. His ERA, WHIP and strikeout rate had essentially been stagnant, but a spike in win total last year to 19 helped him have the best fantasy year of his career. The problem was that he’d be hard pressed to repeat that win total, and, sure enough, he only has six wins at the break.

The 19 wins pushed him into to the top ten starting pitchers according to ESPN’s player rater last year, but he had been more of a top 25 guy prior to that point. To be a top ten guy again, or really even to crack the top 20 again, Zimm was going to have to find a way to offset a lower win total. My theory was that he needed to throw his changeup more. As I detailed in the original post, Zimm has the high fastball velocity and changeup movement to make his changeup one of the rare changes that can generate grounders and whiffs at a good rate. If he’d throw it more than 5% of the time, maybe he could increase his strikeout production while maintaining his excellent rate stats. So has he?

Nope. His pitch mix is almost identical to what it was last year with the exception of a few more fastballs at the expense of his curveball. Yet his strikeout rate is currently the highest of his career and almost 2% higher than his career rate. That’s because his whiff rate is up with his fastball, slider and change. Most importantly, the whiff percentage of his fastball, which he throws over 60% of the time, is up about 3% from what it averaged from 2011-2013.

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The spike in strikeout rate hasn’t come about in the manner I expected, but it has happened nonetheless. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean Zimmermann has maintained top 20 SP value. His WHIP is currently the highest of his career, and it’s 12 points higher than it was last year. It certainly hasn’t risen because of the ‘W’ in WHIP as he’s pumping first pitch strikes in at the highest rate of his career (70.8%), which has led to the best walk rate of his career so far. The real culprit is BABIP. His .329 BABIP is easily the highest of his career and is about 11% higher than his career rate.

To recap, the win total has regressed as expected. The strikeouts have increased, but that hasn’t offset the lack of wins because a career high BABIP is hurting his WHIP. Assuming his BABIP regresses back towards his career average and he maintains the strikeout gains, Zimm could be a top 20-25 pitcher in the second half. Given that he currently ranks 42nd on ESPN’s player rater, you might be able to buy low on him.

The problem is that Zimm left his last start before the break with a biceps strain. The most recent reports say he’ll try throwing on Thursday. He could be back in the rotation Monday, or he could hit the DL. His MRI didn’t reveal anything too worrisome, but there’s definitely some risk buying low here. Although the injury concern might make the buy low price even cheaper. Ultimately, making an offer on Zimmermann should depend on where you’re at in the standings. If you’re on the lead or close to it, the risk probably isn’t worth it. But if you’re in the middle of the pack and you need to shake things up to make a move up the standings, it’s worth a shot.

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