clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Free Agent: Jordan Zimmermann

The Toronto Blue Jays are going into the offseason most likely prioritizing three positions: starting pitcher, starting pitcher and starting pitcher. Luckily, there are a lot of intriguing pitchers on the market. Unfortunately, relatively old starting pitchers have a tendency to break down or lose velocity and effectiveness. Is former Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann a pitcher the Blue Jays should be looking to offer a contract?

Is Zimmermann's ability to flip bats good enough for the Blue Jays?
Is Zimmermann's ability to flip bats good enough for the Blue Jays?
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

As far as free agent pitchers go, I've already covered Johnny Cueto, a hard-throwing right-hander who mixes his pitches as if he was Mark Buehrle despite the velocity on his fastball. Jordan Zimmermann, subject of today's article, is a very different animal. Johnny Cueto tries to hit the corners and mixes five different pitches for maximum predictability, but Jordan Zimmermann comes right at hitters with hard fastballs and sometimes mixes in two breaking balls. If Johnny Cueto's style resembles that of Mark Buehrle, then Jordan Zimmermann could remind you of Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee or indeed a David Price with a more limited pitch repertoire. In a way, Jordan Zimmermann is both the opposite of master nibbler Yovani Gallardo, and a clone of Gallardo in terms of pitch repertoire: mostly fastballs and sliders, some curveballs to left-handers.

Zimmermann's unfortunate timing

While you probably know that Jordan Zimmermann is a solid pitcher, it would probably surprise you to know that he has a claim to be near the top 10 of pitchers in his first four years of 100+ innings, ranking 11th out 151 pitchers (min. 300 innings pitched) in ERA- during the 2011-2014 period. During that time he had a better relative ERA than fellow free agents David Price and Zack Greinke, making Zimmermann the most effective free agent pitcher behind Johnny Cueto over that timeframe. If only Jordan had been a free agent after the 2014 season, he might have made a huge amount of money.

Unfortunately for Zimmermann, teams will not care as much for his great stretch between 2011 and 2014, as they will for his unspectacular 2015 season. Coming off undeniably his best ever season in 2014, Zimmermann had his worst full season this year, with a badly timed drop in velocity of approximately a full mile per hour. While Zack Greinke and David Price are competing for their league's respective Cy Young awards, Jordan Zimmermann was just barely ahead of the more mediocre group of free agent pitchers like J.A. Happ and Mike Leake.

Digging deeper

Jordan Zimmermann has been one of the harder throwing starting pitchers in MLB, throwing around 94 mph before he lost velocity this year. If Zimmermann's new velocity is 93 mph, that is still quite hard, slightly harder than Sonny Gray, Corey Kluber and Johnny Cueto, for example. Plenty of good pitchers, like Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander, have dealt with much bigger losses in velocity. But then there's the counterpoint that these pitchers all feature very good changeups, and Zimmermann does not.

Jordan Zimmermann is a rare specimen in that he has a good fastball, despite not combining it with a changeup, nor having multiple variations: no two-seamer or cutter can be found in Zimmermann's arsenal. It has me struggling to find a good comparison for Zimmermann, as most pitchers that lack a changeup will throw some two-seamers (John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Lance Lynn to name a few) or have ineffective fastballs (Brandon Morrow, Ervin Santana). Josh Johnson and Mat Latos fit the pitch repertoire profile, but both have very high release points, whereas Jordan Zimmermann releases the ball quite low.

As it turns out, I'm left with one pitcher who does fit the pitching mechanics and the pitch repertoire decently, and that is Roy Oswalt:

Jordan Zimmermann and Roy Oswalt

On the left, Jordan Zimmermann, with Roy Oswalt on the right.

Although Roy Oswalt did not lose a lot of velocity over his career, and lost velocity only late in his career at age 33, he suffered a steep decline when he did. And unlike Zimmermann, Oswalt did start throwing quite a few reasonably effective changeups late in his career.

Beating age

Losing velocity is definitely not great for a power pitcher like Jordan Zimmermann. Josh Johnson, Mat Latos, Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt all declined quite a bit after losing velocity, which is not a good sign for Zimmermann, who is somewhat comparable to those pitchers. But although he will turn 30 next season, you can't write Zimmermann off just yet. It was only the first time Zimmermann had lost velocity, and there's no reason to believe his velocity will not stabilize and decline slowly from this point onwards. John Lackey had a pretty steady career in terms of velocity, and he was throwing harder at age 36 than he was at age 29. James Shields started throwing harder after he hit 30. It's very hard to predict velocity numbers, and on the positive side, Zimmermann's delivery does not scream elbow or shoulder problems to me.

Jordan Zimmermann has, in fact, already taken steps to combat the effects of aging. The past season, he threw a lot of high fastballs, possibly hoping to compensate for the loss in velocity. Against right-handers, he avoided the dangerous low-and-inside part of the plate, but struggled a bit to keep the fastball away from the bats of left-handers. Possibly the biggest change was Zimmermann sharpening up both his breaking balls, making the curveball a pitch he can now throw for strikes a lot better. Zimmermann will need the improved curveball against lefties, as his slider is far less effective against them. So far, the results were good, and if Zimmermann can avoid getting hurt by lefties hitting his fastball, he could be just as effective as he was before.

The verdict

To me, Jordan Zimmermann feels like a National League pitcher. Zimmermann's pitching style might not be the best fit for the hitter-friendly parks of the AL East, and the recent track record for Blue Jays pitchers without changeups has been bad. Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and Josh Johnson have all been disappointing, even though a lot was expected from them. I do like pitchers who throw a lot of strikes, but I doubt Zimmermann is a good fit for the Blue Jays. That said, I also feel like he might be underestimated on the current free agent market, and his price range might be more up Shapiro's alley than a David Price, Zack Greinke or Johnny Cueto.

Would you consider handing out a big contract to Jordan Zimmermann? 58% of you did not want any part of Johnny Cueto, so it'll be interesting to see if the poll attached to this article will yield more favourable results than with Cueto.