The baseball world may have been rightly enamored with Stephen Strasburg‘s strikeout prowess, or busy watching Gio Gonzalez put up gaudy win totals, but for a good half of the season, you could make an argument that neither were the best pitcher for the league-best Washington Nationals.
That man would be Jordan Zimmermann, slotted as the team’s number-three pitcher, and the only Nationals player who could still go to arbitration.
Through the first half of the 2012 season, Zimmermann led the team’s rotation with a 2.61 ERA, with a 1.12 WHIP that was right there with Gonzalez’s 1.11 and Strasburg’s 1.10. Despite not having elite strikeout stiff, Zimmermann exhibited excellent control, and his 3.36 K/BB bettered that of Gio’s.
In fact, for a good month of the year, Zimmermann wasn’t just the best pitcher on the Nationals – you could say he was arguably the best pitcher in the game. The righty went on a six-start tear in July of 2012, allowing just 4 earned runs over 37 innings and just giving up four walks in the process, good enough to give him a ridiculous 7.75 K/BB over the month.
Sure, his 12-8 record doesn’t jump out at you, but that number belies Zimmermann’s talent level compared to the Nationals duo of aces. The one knock against him is that he slowed considerably after July, and posted two poor months to end the season, punctuated by a 8-run debacle against the St. Louis Cardinals in September.
Is it a coincidence that Zimmermann ran out of gas around the time where he reached his team-imposed 160 innings count in 2011? It’s possible, but I don’t anticipate that being an issue going into 2013, now that he’s more two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and finally had his first 190+ inning season behind him in the majors.
Even with his struggles at the end of the season, Zimmermann still finished 2012 with an excellent 2.94/1.17 ERA/WHIP split, and a consistent 2013 will see him taking his place in the top 10 NL pitchers, and give the Nationals the ability to roll out a trio of aces that will give any team’s lineup fits.
In short, he’s who Matt Cain was to the San Francisco Giants, before Tim Lincecum stumbled and Cain took over as team ace.
And like Cain, the 26-year old Zimmermann could well be ready for his coming out party, after being in the shadows of Gonzalez and Strasburg over all of last season.