The Washington Nationals have been one of the more steadily improving teams in baseball in the last few years. Since leaving Montreal, the franchise has gone from perennial cellar-dweller to a team with a real chance to make some waves in the NL East.
By now, you probably know that prize prospect Stephen Strasburg will be shut down for the balance of 2010 and may need Tommy John surgery. A full season of Strasburg alone (assuming his recovery goes well) should excite Nationals fans. However, Strasburg isn’t the only young arm returning to the Nationals for 2011. Fresh off his own Tommy John, Jordan Zimmerman made his first start of 2010 just two nights ago. Zimmerman and Strasburg will anchor the Nationals’ rotation for the foreseeable future.
The 24-year-old Zimmerman will play second fiddle to Strasburg, but is an outstanding young pitcher in his own right. Zimmerman began his career with the Nationals in 2007, putting up a 2.18 FIP in 49 low A innings. Promoted to high A for the start of 2008, Zimmerman didn’t stay long, putting up a 2.29 FIP in 27.1 innings and earning a promotion to double-A.
Zimmerman finally earned his shot with the big club in 2009, and though he had mixed returns, he pitched much better than his traditional metrics would suggest. Zimmerman’s ERA was a mediocre 4.63, but this was largely due to a .339 BABIP against. Zimmerman’s FIP was a stellar 3.59, and Nationals fans should expect an ERA closer to that range for the rest of 2010 as well as for the future. As he matures and learns more about pitching in the big leagues, it would not be a surprise to see Zimmerman improve statistically.
Zimmerman relies on a fastball-slider-curve combination, with a changeup every so often as a change of pace, to keep the ball on the ground and in the infield while striking out nearly a batter per inning. Zimmerman racked up 92 K’s in 91.1 innings last year, while posting a groundball rate of 43.5%. While the Nats might like to see him get a bit more groundball-heavy than he already is, Zimmerman will likely be effective as long as he can keep his GB/FB ratio in the 1.35 range, as it was in 2009. Strikeouts and groundballs is a long-accepted recipe for success in Major League Baseball, and Zimmerman will hope to achieve such success as a key cog in the Nationals’ starting rotation in the years to come.
So wait ‘til next year, Nats fans, but look forward to a stellar one-two punch in the starting rotation as you do. Check back tomorrow, when I’ll be attempting to work a minor miracle by giving Royals fans hope for the future.