Key Stats: Zimmermann came back strong in 2011 despite a win – loss record that wasn’t favorable. His 3.18 ERA was 21st in all of baseball among qualified pitchers, with a FIP, xFIP, tERA and SIERA to back it up. He was able to cut down on his walks per nine while pitching with a pretty normalized BABIP giving us his best WHIP to date. After having Tommy John surgery in August of 2009, he was able to come back and pitch some in 2010, but his velocity was down and he generated some pretty inflated numbers. 2011 saw his velocity return to normal, along with any skewed peripherals from the prior season.
Skeptics Say: For the first time in his young career Zimmermann gave up more fly balls than grounders, and perhaps coincidentally also had a career best HR/FB Ratio of 5.9%. League average is generally around 10%, so it will be very hard for him to duplicate that feat again, especially considering that his previous marks in that category were 12.2% and 22.2% in 2009 and 2010 respectively. His K/9 dipped from 2010 to 2011, but his swinging strike rate, first pitch strike rate and pitches that batters swung at in general all went up, so I think the dip in K/9 is more anomaly than trend.
Peer Comparison: Eno Sarris at FanGraphs has a great article that compares Yu Darvish to all of the 25 year old pitchers with at least 150 innings piched in the majors last year, including Zimmermann, here.
Team Outlook: The Nats are a team on the rise with a plethora of young talent and an owner willing to shell out money to get players he wants. Zimmermann was called their best prospect in 2009. He lost that title to Stephen Strasberg in 2010, who then lost it to Bryce Harper in 2011. As you know both of them were not only the best prospects in their system, but considered by many to be the best in all of baseball. Between those three and young players on the verge of stardom already with the team (Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa), the Nats are on the verge of being a force that will compete for years to come.
Projection: I like Zimmerman going forward. I think we will see a regression in his HR/FB ratio that is closer to the 12.2% from 2009 than the 5.9% from last year, but I also anticipate him generating some more strikeouts this year than last. Look for an increase in Wins (good), a small to moderate increase in ERA (bad), but again, an increase in K’s (ending on the good!).
12 W, 3.60 ERA, 154 K, 1.15 WHIP in 190 innings.