Monday, March 2, 2015

Scouting Report: Ryan Zimmerman

Ryan Zimmerman had a difficult year. He only played in 61 regular season games due to a combination of injuries. That means he only faced a total of 924 pitches during 2014. He was effective during those 61 games, though, so while it’s not the biggest sample size, it should still give us a good idea of pitchers’ approaches to Zimmerman.

Similar to what we saw with Jayson Werth, pitchers are willing to challenge Zimmerman with fastballs and sinkers. He saw just under 60% fastballs from both left handers and right handers in 2014. My first thought, was maybe this was a reaction to Zimmerman’s health questions in 2014. But, those rates are consistent with what he saw in 2013 and overall in his career. Zimmerman is known as a patient hitter, though, and is usually taking on the first pitch. In fact, in 2014, he swung at the first pitch in only 35 of his 240 plate appearances, under 15% of the time. When pitchers are ahead, they increasingly go to the slider against Zimmerman. Overall, lefties threw sliders 14% of the time against Zimmerman, but when they were ahead in the count, that rate jumped to 21%. Against righties, we see the same thing as he saw sliders 16% of the time overall, but 22% of the time in pitcher’s counts. The way I interpret this, pitchers are cognizant of the fact that Zimmerman is patient, and work to get ahead quickly with fastballs and sinkers and are more willing to turn to the off speed pitches once they get ahead in the count.

When seeing fastballs from right handed hitters, Zimmerman usually saw pitches in the zone:

Pitchers clearly avoided the inner third of the plate against Zimmerman, opting to keep the ball away. What we don’t see above is as big a cluster of pitches outside of the zone as we have seen in previous scouting reports. Pitchers know that Zimmerman has a great knowledge of the strike zone so getting Zimmerman to chase a fastball out of the zone is difficult. For that reason, we don’t see many pitches away and out of the zone.

The heatmap from the fastballs/sinkers from left handers is a little more scattered:

Clearly there is a lot of noise here, but two things stick out to me. First, you see that one spot of red at the bottom of the zone. The most common spot for these pitches from left handers is low and middle. The next thing that stands out is the lack of pitches up in the zone. Take these two together and the scouting report for lefties clearly is to avoid leaving the ball up and in the zone, preferring to stay down in the zone in an attempt to keep Zimmerman from driving a pitch up in the zone.

The story is pretty similar when you look at how righties threw their curveballs/sliders to Zimmerman:

There is that natural cluster low and away, which isn’t surprising given the natural movement of breaking pitches from right handers. What does stand out, though, is that the biggest clusters are actually in the zone. This goes back to what we saw with the fastballs. Zimmerman is not likely to chase a pitch out of the zone, so if you want to get a strike against Zimm, you are going to have to fool him on a pitch in the zone, even if it’s a breaking ball.

Given the small sample size, this heatmap of breaking balls from left handers is a little confusing, but if you look closely, you can see the continuing theme of keeping balls in the strikezone:

There are the outliers out of the zone, mostly low and away, but a majority of the pitches are in the zone.

So the book on Zimmerman seems to be pretty basic: keep pitches in the zone. He is a somewhat passive hitter, so steal your strikes when you can, usually with the fastball. You have to keep the ball in the zone, though, because Zimmerman swings at pitches out of the zone at an above average rate. It will be interesting to see if this approach changes at all during this season, when you would hope you have a fully healthy Zimmerman for an extended period of time. Given Zimmerman’s recent injury history, we might be seeing a lot of noise in these heatmaps that have more to do with his health issues than with the true approach to pitching to him.

Catch up on the rest of the Scouting Report series on Denard Span, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos, and Jayson Werth.

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