Less Is More

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Most of the stories about Jordan Zimmermann’s most recent superb start will focus on his change-up, a favorite topic of the local writers here in Washington.

Explicitly, they will focus on one specific change-up, a particularly nasty, fading number that induced a flailing swing from one of the best hitters in baseball, the Rockies Carlos Gonzalez, to end the only real Colorado threat Thursday night. And that focus will be warranted. Check out the (0:50) mark of the video below to see for yourself.

But, there is a larger story here, a broader change in Zimmermann’s game. Never mind the fact that he shares the league lead in wins and complete games and ranks in the top five in innings pitched (107.2), ERA (2.26), WHIP (0.93), walks per nine innings (1.39) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.07).

No, the bigger issue at hand is the fact that the Wisconsin native is the league’s most efficient pitcher, needing just 13.52 pitches per inning. While that is not a statistic that is brought up as often as the ones preceding it, it is just as important. The fewer the pitches per inning, the deeper into the game a starter can work. That saves the bullpen’s arms and the defense’s legs, especially when one works as quickly between pitches as Zimmermann does. But just how good of a number is 13.52? Consider this: No Major League pitcher has finished a full season under 14 pitches per frame since Joel Pineiro in 2009 (13.85), and no pitcher has been more efficient since Greg Maddux – yes, that Greg Maddux – in his final season back in 2008.

Zimmermann's continued development is no mirage.

Zimmermann’s continued development is no mirage.

Maddux made an art form of his efficiency, leading the big leagues in every year of the last decade except 2005 (when he finished second) up to his retirement. The legend finished his illustrious run with 355 career victories, and will be a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer this summer. Not a bad model to follow.

The results have led to Zimmermann averaging 7.17 innings per start, up from 6.11 last season. Meanwhile, his numbers have improved across the board from an already stellar season in 2012, except for a slightly lower strikeout rate. Zimmermann is just fine with that, knowing that quick, weak contact equals easy outs.

“I’ve been doing the same thing – throwing strikes,” the righty said of his success this season. “Obviously I want to be in the zone. (The hitters) know I’m in the zone, so they’re going to be hacking at the first pitch. As long as I make a quality pitch, it’s going to result in an out most of the time.”

Of course, when it comes to national publicity, Zimmermann can’t catch a break. “Oswalt fans 11 in debut, but Nats are victorious” blares the headline on MLB.com, without even a casual mention of the winning pitcher’s name. There is Oswalt’s strikeout total, but nothing of Jordan’s nine, a new season-high. The Rockies starter also allowed four runs in his five innings of work, Zimmermann ceding just a single, unearned tally against him in eight frames.

Maybe Zimmermann’s lack of notoriety for his accomplishments is an unintentional byproduct of his most improved skill. Perhaps he’s off the mound so quickly most innings that some writers fail to even notice how good he really is.

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