Jordan Zimmerman is a hot topic in baseball (real and fantasy) this season. Zimmerman has worked for the past couple years in the shadow of Stephen Strasburg, but this year finds himself in the top 10 in ERA for a Washington Nationals team many are picking to reach the World Series. I was reading David Schoenfeld’s Sweetspot chat this afternoon and Schoenfeld identified him as someone who would absolutely contend for the Cy Young award this year; Zimmerman also changed hands in our @Ottoneu league yesterday, the keystone return that a rebuilding owner received for a $39 Matt Holliday and a $10 Jaime Garcia. Amongst Ottoneu starting pitchers, Zimmerman ranks 7th in baseball in points scored, while sporting a microscopic 1.69 ERA.
The ERA looks great – but beyond that ERA, I don’t see a ton of reason for optimism. Through Zimm’s 58 IP this season, he has generated a career low 7.3% swinging strikes (below the league average of around 9%), and his K/9 correspondingly stands below 6 – a career low and down from his 9.04 K/9 as a rookie. Relatedly, Zimmerman is throwing fewer first strikes (58% against a career number of 65%) than ever before.
Opposing hitters over his career have hit a fairly consistent .245, but this year are hitting .195 on the strength of Zimmerman’s .230 BABIP number (using Fangraph’s xBABIP calculator, we would expect that number to sit at .318). His artificially low HR/FB of 4.1% is unlikely to remain as low as it has been through the first quarter of the season.
A closer examination of his game log yields similar pessimism. Zimmerman has logged 8 starts this season. Two were against the Miami Marlins (wRC+ of 66, by far the worst in baseball). Two additional starts were against the White Sox (29th, 71) and the Mets (25th, 91). A 5th was against the Reds (18th, 95) and 6th against the Dodgers (almost an exact league average wRC+ of 99), leaving 2 of 8 starts against above average hitting teams (the Tigers and the Braves).
As the season wears on, Zimmerman will need to throw more first pitch strikes – and even if he does, he will see more balls drop in for base hits and/or leave the yard. At $17, he is an interesting asset in Ottoneu LWTS leagues. However if you can find an owner that considers him closer to ace than league average, you would be well advised to sell – replacing his production over the next 150 innings will be easier than you think.