The Washington Nationals haven’t had much to celebrate since moving to DC before the 2005 season. In the six full seasons since the move, the nationals have finished in last in the division five times. The lone exception was a 4th place finish in 2007. However, there are indications that this era of futility could be coming to an end. Everyone knows about Strasburg and Harper, as well as the signing of Jason Werth; and the possible signing of Prince Fielder could thrust the Nationals into contender status as soon as next season. But there are a number of young players who suggest that the Nationals are headed for an extended run of better seasons in the near future. This series will discuss several of those players, starting here with 25 year old starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann.
In 2009, Jordan Zimmermann was rated the Nationals top prospect. He made the team out of camp, and showed promise as a rookie pitcher. He had two good starts in April, a rough May, and then a torrid June in which he allowed 5 earned runs in 23.2 innings over 4 starts. He was then plagued in July by poor Nationals defense, where they made six errors behind him in four starts. And then, in the middle of July, he hurt his elbow and had to undergo Tommy John Surgery. Though the surgery is still talked about as a big deal, the truth of the situation is that pitchers bounce back nearly 100% of the time, there is just a long layoff between starts.
When Zimmermann returned from his surgery, he was a bit rough around the edges. His first start saw him give up five earned runs in four innings. Then in his second, he was a shutout pitcher for six innings. The rest of the season saw Zimmermann flip back and forth between efficient and bad, though he did not manage to surpass six innings all season.
The 2011 season started well, with five earned runs in 18.1 innings, but hit a rough stretch in the final two starts of April, both seeing five earned runs by themselves. These two starts had Zimmermann’s ERA sitting at 4.55 at the end of April. At this point in his career, Zimmermann had displayed some great pieces, and shown some weaknesses. He has several good pitches, with his fastball and slider being the best, and has shown flashes of dominance, including averaging more than one K per inning his rookie year. However, his consistency had not been up to par at that point, with 10 starts of five earned runs or more in only 28 career starts.
Since the beginning of May, Zimmermann seems to have turned the corner. In May, Zimmermann made five starts, all of which qualified as quality starts (6+ innings, 3 or fewer ER). Additionally, he regained a part of his game that had been missing slightly since the surgery, with 8.93 K/9 innings. Continuing into June, Zimmermann became even more impressive. As of June 12th, Zimmermann had made three June starts, all going seven innings and allowing a total of two runs. But what stands out is the consistency that Zimmermann has started to establish.
His run of seven consecutive quality starts is by far the longest of his career, surpassing his previous high of four. Additionally, he has held a WHIP of 1.04 during the streak, meaning the ERA he is holding in this streak is deserved, not a product of lucky bounces.
Detractors from this current streak will point out that, with the exception of his shutdown of the Arizona Diamondbacks offense, all of the teams in this streak can be found well into the bottom half of the league in offense, but they are missing the point. Zimmermann has shut down top offenses in the past; Arizona and Philadelphia this year, Florida last year, and Florida and Boston in his rookie year. The problem has never been Zimmermann’s ability to beat top hitters. The problem has been his ability to regularly retire average ones. In 2009, relatively anemic offenses like the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants had sweet swinging days when they faced Zimmermann. Truthfully, at least 70% of the pitchers in the Major Leagues have the ability to shut down the best hitters. What separates the average to good pitcher from the elite is whether or not they can bring the good stuff consistently. So the goal for Zimmermann at this point is not to improve his pitches, but to increase the percentage of days that he can throw them. This stretch is showing the progress Zimmermann needs to make to achieve his ceiling as a number one or two starting pitcher.
Zimmermann is not yet where he needs to be. Though his ERA sits at 3.10 (22nd in the MLB, 11th in NL), his WHIP is 1.08 (17/7), and his K/BB ratio is 3.81 (11/6), he needs to prove that he can achieve those statistics through an entire season, not just as a product of a hot stretch. But a hot stretch is where every career step begins. No one can hit .300 for a season without hitting .300 for a ten game stretch, no team can finish above .500 without at least one 6-4 stretch, and no one can become an ace pitcher without a hot streak.
If Zimmermann can continue to evolve and transform into a top of the line starter, next season the Nationals will trot out a starting rotation with two established arms set to drive the team for the next five years.
Jordan Zimmermann Player Stats, News, Picture, Bio, Videos
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MLB Player Pitching Stats 2011