NLDS Game 2 Preview: Can the St. Louis Cardinals Break Through Against Jordan Zimmermann?

Dilip Vishwanat - Getty Images

Heading into Tuesday afternoon's NLDS Game 2, a look at Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann's stats and his how he deploys his repertoire against lefthanded and righthanded batters.

After squandering a prime opportunity to lead the best-of-five NDLS going into Game 2 at Busch Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, the Cardinals find themselves in a sticky situation. The Cardinals lost the first of their two home games this best-of-five series despite 10 Adam Wainwright strikeouts, seven Gio Gonzalez walks, and a one-run eighth-inning lead. A day after being three-hit by the Nats, the Cardinals will face Washington starter Jordan Zimmermann in the important game of their season to date.

Zimmermann broke into the big leagues in 2009, at the age of 23. The six-foot-two righty made 16 starts that year for the Nationals and posted a 4.63 ERA, 3.59 FIP, and 3.35 xFIP in 91 1/3 IP. Zimmermann's ERA-FIP gap that year is starkly shown by comparing his worse-than-average ERA- of 111 to his quite good FIP- of 85. In 2009, Zimmermann struck out 23.9 percent of the batters he faced, which equaled a 9.07 K/9--both high-water marks in his big-league career. Unfortunately, Zimmermann's rookie career was cut short by a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) that required season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Zimmermann returned from Tommy John surgery in late August 2010 to make seven starts that spanned 31 innings. Zimmermann was not very sharp during his brief return at the end of the 2010 season. He posted a 4.94 ERA, 5.85 FIP, and 3.92 xFIP, but laid a solid foundation for a full-time return to the Nats rotation in 2011.

Last season, Zimmermann started the year in the Washington rotation. He made 26 starts and posted an excellent 3.18 ERA and 3.16 FIP to go along with a not-so-great 3.98 xFIP. Zimmermann struck out 18.7 percent of the batters he faced and walked just 4.7 percent. His lower-than-average 6.92 K/9 was complemented by a lower-than-average 1.87 BB/9. The Nationals shut Zimmermann down after 161 1/3 IP, a decision that was partly the basis for the shutting down of Steven Strasburg this season.*

*Coincidentally, Zimmermann's opponent Monday afternoon, Jaime Garcia, was shut down by the Cardinals after 163 1/3 IP in 2010, his first season after Tommy John surgery. Like Garcia last year, Zimmermann totaled over 190 IP in his second regular season after Tommy John surgery. Also like Garcia in 2011, Zimmermann will add to that total by pitching in the postseason.

This season, Zimmermann has been an excellent starter. He has made 32 starts and notched 195 2/3 innings. 19 percent of opposing batters have struck out against Zimmermann and only 5.3 percent have walked. Zimmermann's elite 2.94 ERA is based on the somewhat shaky foundation of higher Defense Independent Pitching Stats: 3.51 FIP and 3.78 xFIP. This is not to say that Zimmermann has not been a good pitcher. He has. It's just a question of how good. Zimmerann has an elite ERA- of 75, a very good FIP- of 90, and an average-ish xFIP- of 98. At -0.56, Zimmermann's ERA-FIP gap is the eighth-largest in MLB.

This season, Zimmermann has relied primarily on three pitches. Curiously for a starter, those three pitches are his fourseam fastball, slider, and curveball. He also uses a sinker and changeup sparingly. Against righthanders, Zimmermann relies almost exclusively on his fourseamer and slider, with a few curves sprinkled in. Against lefties, Zimmerman relies on his fourseamer the majority of the time and deploys his curve and slider equally, with a few sinkers and changeups for good measure. Using the data available at Brooks Baseball, the following chart shows a percentage breakdown of Zimmermann's pitch selection overall and by handedness of the opposing batter.

2012 PITCH SELECTION

Split

Fourseam (FA)

Sinker (SI)

Slider (SL)

Curveball (CU)

Changeup (CH)

vs. LHB

61%

5%

15%

15%

4%

Overall

58%

4%

24%

11%

2%

vs. RHB

55%

3%

34%

7%

--

As you can see from the chart, Zimmermann greatly prefers using his fourseamer against lefties and righties alike. He actually deploys it a majority of the time no matter the handedness of the batter or the count, except for one scenario: when he's ahead in the count against righthanded batters. That being said, Zimmermann is most likely to throw his fourseamer on the first pitch of an at-bat or when the batter is ahead in the count, as shown by the following chart, based on the data available at Brooks Baseball.

2012 PITCH SELECTION VS. LHB

Situation

Fourseam

Sinker

Slider

Curve

Changeup

All Counts

61%

5%

15%

15%

4%

First Pitch

71%

6%

11%

11%

1%

Batter Ahead

67%

8%

13%

9%

3%

Even

63%

5%

14%

14%

4%

Pitcher Ahead

55%

2%

18%

20%

5%

Two Strikes

53%

2%

21%

23%

2%


2012 PITCH SELECTION VS. RHB

Situation

Fourseam

Sinker

Slider

Curve

Changeup

All Counts

55%

3%

34%

7%

0%

First Pitch

59%

4%

36%

2%

0%

Batter Ahead

57%

2%

39%

2%

0%

Even

56%

4%

36%

4%

0%

Pitcher Ahead

53%

4%

30%

13%

0%

Two Strikes

48%

3%

35%

14%

0%


I found it interesting to see how Zimmermann deploys his breaking ball against lefthanded batters. As the split breakdown shows, Zimmermann uses both his curve and slider 15 percent of the time against lefties. Despite using them in equal measure, Zimmermann uses them to complement one another. Using the Pitch F/X Pitcher Profile charts at Baseball Prospectus, we can see that Zimmermann likes to throw his curve as a backdoor pitch, on the outside corner to lefthanded batters while preferring to utilize his slider like a cutter against lefties, using it on the inside part of the plate.

CURVE VS. LHB

SLIDER VS. LHB

As noted above, Zimmermann throws primarily fourseamers and sliders to righthanded batters. Not surprisingly, Zimmermann looks to hit the outside corner with his slider when throwing it against righthanded batters, and will run the pitch of the plate in an attempt to get them to chase. The following is the Pitch F/X pitcher profile chart for Zimmermann's slider against righthanded batters.

SLIDER VS. RHB

Oddly enough, despite lefties drawing more walks against him, Zimmermann has actually been more effective against lefthanded batters this season than righthanded batters. Righthanded batters have hit for a higher average against Zimmermann than lefthanders. Righthanders have also hit for more power against him, posting an Isolated Power (ISO) of .166 to .132 for lefthanded batsmen.

ZIMMERMANN SPLITS BY BATTER HANDEDNESS

Split

Strikeout %

Walk %

BA

OBP

SLG

vs. LHB

19.6%

7.2%

.232

.300

.350

Overall

19.0%

5.3%

.247

.297

.388

vs. RHB

18.4%

3.4%

.262

.295

.428


Typically, righthanded starters are more effective against righthanded batters. With Jordan Zimmermann, that isn't necessarily the case. The Cardinals lineup on Tuesday will likely feature a majority of rigthhanded batsmen. Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, David Freese, and Yadier Molina will likely play a pivotal role in whether or not the Cardinals and break through against Zimmermann and even the series.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join Viva El Birdos

You must be a member of Viva El Birdos to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Viva El Birdos. You should read them.

Join Viva El Birdos

You must be a member of Viva El Birdos to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Viva El Birdos. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker