There are few teams in the majors on which Jordan Zimmermann would somehow get overlooked; however, that's exactly what's happening in Washington, where Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez hog the headlines. While Strasburg has thrown the ball very well this season and has looked like his dominant self in his last two turns, Zimmermann has been the best pitcher on the team through the first two months of the season.
In 10 starts, Zimmerman is 8-2 with a 1.71 ERA and 0.87 WHIP. It's hard for a pitcher with an ERA less than 2.00 to match that with his FIP, so Zimmermann's 2.79 FIP doesn't mean he's pitching worse than his ERA suggests. The reason his FIP is a full run higher than his ERA is likely because FIP puts a premium on strikeouts and Zimmermann's fanning a career low 5.62 batters per nine innings. So how is Zimmermann having the best year of his career even though his strikeouts are way down? Fewer walks and more ground balls have been the two keys.
Zimmermann's 51.1 percent ground-ball rate would easily be a career high if he's able to sustain it for the entire season. (In his two previous full seasons in the majors, his ground-ball rates were 39.4 percent and 43.4 percent.) In 2011, he walked 1.73 batters per nine innings, and last year, the rate jumped to 1.98 batters. This season, he's walking just 1.1 batters every nine innings, the third-best rate among starters, trailing only Bartolo Colon and Adam Wainwright. Hitters are also hitting more ground balls and walking less -- and striking out less, for that matter -- against Zimmerman this season, which make a great formula for pitching deeper into games. He's gone at least seven innings in eight of his 10 starts, including two complete games. In his first two seasons in the league combined, he pitched at least seven innings 14 times. He has been very efficient with his pitches simply by getting a ton of value out of his two best offerings: his fastball and slider.
The slider has always been an important pitch for Zimmermann. This year, it has been one of the best pitches in baseball, as batters are hitting just .173/.228/.250 against Zimmermann's slider, according to Fangraphs. The pitch has a 44.4 percent ground-ball rate and 14.2 percent swinging-strike rate. His fastball averages 93.6 MPH, and hitters have beaten it into the ground 53.5 percent of the time. Essentially, he's owning hitters with pinpoint command of two pitches. His ERA will likely climb a bit as the season goes on, but there's nothing fluky about what he has done this season. He can definitely finish the year as a top-10 fantasy pitcher.
Starting pitcher barometer
What a relief
? Chris Perez struggled for his second straight appearance Sunday before leaving the game after a visit from the trainer. The Indians placed him on the DL with shoulder soreness Monday, so he'll be out for at least the next two weeks. They weren't ever in a position to set up their bullpen for a save opportunity in a loss to the Reds Monday, so we're still guessing at who might fill the closer's chair with Perez out. The bet here is that Joe Smith wins out over Vinnie Pestano. The latter has a better track record over the last few seasons, but Smith has been much better this year, posting a 1.06 ERA, 2.77 FIP and 18 strikeouts in 17 innings. If you're in the saves market, Smith makes a strong addition right now
? Joel Peralta remains available in a majority of leagues, while Fernando Rodney continues to struggle. Joe Maddon hasn't shown any hints that would suggest he's ready to make a change, but he might have his hand forced before long. Rodney has been scored on in four of his last five appearances, three of which ended in blown saves. In two of those games, he entered the game with a lead of more than one run. Meanwhile, Peralta has been one of the most effective relievers in the majors this year, compiling a 1.93 ERA, 2.46 FIP and 0.99 WHIP in 23.1 innings, while striking out nearly 10.5 batters per nine innings. Go ahead and get Peralta. He'll be the closer in due time.
? Finally, Marlins manager Mike Redmond has seen enough of Steve Cishek in the ninth. Well, more accurately, he's seen enough of only Cishek in the ninth. He'll still get chances, but we've got a full-fledged closer committee in Miami, with Chad Qualls and Mike Dunn joining Cishek in the conversation. This is a nightmare for owners speculating for saves. First of all, the Marlins aren't going to get a ton of save opportunities, so when they do, any of the three are liable to get the call. If you're absolutely desperate for saves, I can see going after Qualls or Dunn. Qualls is a nose ahead of Dunn in my book, simply because Dunn will need to remain available to face lefties in any late-game situations. Add them if you dare -- or if you absolutely must.