Jordan Zimmermann and the Art of Pitching
Pitching is an art form and Nationals fans this season are luck to watch Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez put on display masterpiece after masterpiece, and while Jordan Zimmermann lacks the natural talents of Strasburg or the refinements of Gio he has still done well. He has some flaws to work out, but that is the art of pitching and the plight of the artist as a young man. His 3-6 record is partly a combination of poor run support and the fact the Zimmermann is still learning how to pitch late in ball games.
There are a couple ways to look at Jordan Zimmermann's win/loss record. There is of course the easy way which is to say that a pitcher with an ERA under 3.00 shouldn't have a 3-6 record. The other way is to look back through those games and realize that in three of Jordan Zimmermann's six losses the game was tied or the Nationals had the lead as late as the fifth inning, and each time Jordan Zimmermann gave up the deciding runs.
None of this is to say Jordan Zimmermann isn't a good pitcher, but it is to say that to find him blameless in his losses is faulty. Part of the reason for his 3-6 record is the poor run support he has received of 3.11 runs a game, but it is also important to remember that the Nationals are as a team are only averaging 3.80 runs a game. It isn't as simple as the Nationals can't score with Jordan Zimmermann on the mound. The Nationals have trouble scoring no matter who is on the mound.
As unlucky as Jordan Zimmermann has been in the won/loss record he has been lucky when it comes to his ERA. Jordan Zimmermann on average has given up 84 hits which works out to an average of six a game. The problem isn't so much the hits as it is the type of hits Zimmermann is giving up. Of those 84 hits 11 of them have been homeruns. The other issue with Jordan Zimmermann has been that with the Nationals ahead batters are hitting .293/.340/.515 against him and with the Nationals behind they can only manage to hit .224/.283/.337. For some unknown reason Jordan Zimmermann is a better pitcher when his team is behind than he is when they have a lead.
The game logs also attest somewhat to this. In three of Jordan Zimmermann's losses against the Diamondbacks, Phillies, and the Pirates the game was never close. Jordan Zimmermann gave up too many early runs and put the Nationals in a position it would be difficult to come back from. It is his other three losses and one no decision that are concerning.
Jordan Zimmermann's first game of the season now looks like an indicator of things to come. The Nationals didn't score him many runs and found themselves down by a run entering the sixth inning, but in the top of that frame they were able to battle back and tie the game on a Danny Espinosa sac fly. Needing a shutdown inning now that the Nationals had found their way back into this game Jordan Zimmermann provided the opposite. With one out Zimmermann would give up a double to Darwin Barney and a two out Alfonso Soriano single would score him and give the Cubs back the lead.
It wasn't until May, 28 that Jordan Zimmermann once again found himself in a similar situation. This time the lead was a little more comfortable as the Nats headed into the sixth leading the Marlins by the score of 3-1. It isn't a great lead, but in the sixth inning with a pitcher of Zimmermann's abilities on the mound it should be enough, but once again the sixth inning turned out to be Jordan's undoing.
Jordan Zimmermann would start off the inning by giving up a single to Hanley Ramirez and a homerun to Giancarlo Stanton. With the score now tied and the bases cleared Jordan Zimmermann continued to do anything but bear down as he gave up a double to Logan Morrison and a single to Brian Peterson before striking out John Buck for the first out of the inning. Still needing to get out of the inning Zimmermann would then surrender the lead to a Chris Coghlan sac fly before popping up Carlos Zambrano to end the inning.
On June, 16 Jordan Zimmermann would once again find himself in a close game and his team having the lead entering the sixth inning at home against the Yankees. This would end up being a game the Nationals would lose in extra innings partly due to a blown call at home plate in which Tyler Moore appeared to score the go ahead run in the eighth inning, but this game was also lost in the sixth inning.
Jordan Zimmermann gave up two straight hits to Cano and Swisher to start the inning. A single and a double respectively that would put a runner on third with no outs for Raul Ibanez whose ground out would allow Cano to score. Ryan Zimmermann would then make an excellent play to nail Swisher at the plate, but then Eric Chavez would hit a double that would allow Russell Martin to score from first.
Once again Jordan Zimmermann had entered the sixth inning with the Nationals either tied or behind and ended up giving the other team the lead. Last night was only slightly different as Zimmermann and Hammel were locked in a pitcher's duel and Ian Desmond in the top of the fifth inning had managed to tie the game in one of the more unconventional plays a person will see in baseball when he took off for third after advancing to second on Roger Bernadina's ground ball. This forced a bad throw from the Orioles and Desmond was able to score the tying run.
Having just tied the game and needing a shutdown inning Jordan Zimmermann would once again do the opposite. After getting Mark Reynolds to pop out Jordan Zimmermann would hit Nick Johnson with a pitch and then with two outs he gave up a single to Brian Roberts and a double to JJ Hardy that allowed Johnson to score what would end up being the deciding run.
Even in one of Jordan Zimmermann's no decisions that was a win he struggled in the sixth inning giving up homeruns to Jordany Valdespin and David Wright. The Mets would eventually tie the game, with Zimmermann out of the game; before the Nats would go on to win on a Bryce Harper walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th inning.
The story of Jordan Zimmermann's season is low run support, but it is also of one of blown leads, ties, and making games closer than they need to be. The problem is on his third trip through the order hitters have figured out that unlike Strasburg and Gio Jordan Zimmermann has no whip out pitch. Jordan Zimmermann is going to through strikes. The third time through the order his K/BB shrinks from an excellent 6.25 the first time and 6.00 the second time through the order all the way down to 2.14 and batters are hitting .281/.327/.458 against him. Part of this might also be that Jordan Zimmermann is tiring. From pitch 76-100 Zimmermann's K/BB ratio is 1.75 and batters are hitting .306/.380/.500 against him.
It is tough to say that a pitcher as talented as Jordan Zimmermann and with as good of numbers as he has this season is at fault for his losses, but he has a habit of blowing leads and ties late in ball games. For whatever reason Zimmermann is struggling when he reaches that third time through the batting order. It could be the fact that he throws so many pitches in the strike zone, it could be that he is tiring, or it could be plain bad luck. Whatever the reason might be it is important to keep in mind that this is Jordan Zimmermann's first full season in the majors and that he is still learning how to pitch.
Part of pitching is figuring out the adjustments that need to be made as the game goes along. Perhaps in future seasons Jordan Zimmermann will realize that his habit of pounding the strike zone the first two times through the batting order has hitters over aggressive in the later innings and that is when he will start to mix in more breaking balls and change of speed pitches off the plate.
Jordan Zimmermann may lack certain qualities of his rotation mates Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, but Strasburg may be the best pitching prospect the game of baseball has ever seen and up until this season Gio Gonzalez still had his own issues to iron out of his game. Even with low run support and struggles late in ball games the Nats are 7-7 with Jordan Zimmermann on the mound, and that will only get better as Zimmermann continues to refine his art of pitching.