In the beginning there was Rizzo, and along with Rizzo came a draft philosophy that had not been seen for the Nats. Here was the guy that made the Diamondback's system one of the deepest in the game, now with the DC Curly W's. It was a coup to steal him away from the D'backs, one of Bowden's best moves no doubt. And along with his philosophy came dedication, a dedication to find the best out there regardless of school or location. His journey took him to a town of 25,000 to see a pitcher no one had heard of. A cold-weather kid, as Rizzo describes him, who has the potential to be a top of the line big-league starter. His career path turned out the be quite unique, and it seems to finally be coming to fruition.
Zimmermann rocketed to the bigs after just 36 minor league starts, making his debut in 2009. With a top-notch fastball, Jordan kept up his persona of a power pitcher while something more lurked beneath the surface. Taking his lumps in the pros, as opposed to the minors, seemed to be the smart move as he racked up a 1.8 WAR in his first year. Things would take a down turn midseason, and you know the rest. A visit to Dr. James Andrews and Tommy John Surgery soon followed.
After an extremely quick recvovery, Zimmermann came back in late 2010 to start 7 games. Those games did not go very well, as to be expected. His HR/9 and BB/9 rates were way up, and his K/9 numbers went way down. Pundits and analysts were hoping that this would be "the year" for Zimmermann, when he finally makes the leap to front-line starter. Well, how is that going so far...
I'm glad you asked.
You have seen the ERA and the W-L record, but we here at Capitol Baseball like to look a little deeper. Just how has Zimmermann managed to become the Nats best pitcher.
Jordan Zimmermann has put his ego aside, choosing to be a contact pitcher - not a strikeout pitcher. As Bull Durham taught us, strikeouts are boring and besides that they're fascist. By pitching to contact, he has been able to lower his P/PA to a career low 3.72 (pitches per plate appearance), extending his outings and using his stuff properly. You see, strikeouts take at least 3 pitches P/PA and can severely shorten a pitchers outing.
One of the ways that he is able to accomplish this is by throwing his fastball a career low 58.4% of the time, limiting the stress on his arm. And when you don't throw fastballs as much, its harder for the opposition to hit the ball out of the ball park. By choosing to get outs the democratic way, Zimmermann's HR/FB rate (% of Fly-Balls that are Homers) has gone from 12.2% in '09 and 22.2% in '10 to just 3.4% this year. The corollary is that his K/9 is at a career low 6.42 K/9, a trade-off that is most acceptable for the value that he provides to the team; 1.8 WAR through 11 games.
Through trusting his defense and pitching to contact, Zimmermann has so far put up career best numbers (NL Ranks in parentheses) in HR/9 (6th), BB/9 (7th), WHIP (14th), and FIP (7th). Jordan Zimmermann can bring it with the best of them, and it bodes very well for the future of this organization; especially with the expected 2012 return of co-ace Stephen Strasburg.