Biggest Surprises of 2011 – #4: Jordan Zimmermann

In today’s installment of the five biggest surprises on the Washington Nationals 2011 roster, we look at Jordan Zimmermann, the young right-handed starter who solidified his place in the Nationals rotation with a strong 2011 campaign.

We all know the hype that has come with all-world prospects Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but lets not forget about another young stud by the name of Jordan Zimmermann. It wasn’t too long ago when he was ranked the top prospect in the organization…of course this was before Strasburg was drafted but the point is that Zimm will be pretty darn good.

Like Strasburg, Zimmermann fell victim to the injury bug and was sidelined for parts of the 2009 and 2010 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The 25-year old right-hander proved to be yet another cornerstone player for the Nationals in the years to come boosting a rotation with several glimmers of hope in his first full season in the bigs.

Zimmermann was shut down for the final month of the season as part of his continuing rehabilitation from Tommy John, but in his 26 starts, Zimmerman compiled an 8-11 record with an impressive 3.18 ERA and 124 strikeouts. What stands out to me is that he issued just 31 walks in his 161 1/3 innings pitched which equates to a 1.7 BB/9 average. Throwing strikes is so important, especially at the major league level, and Zimmermann has shown maturity and confidence where control will not be an issue. To put things in perspective, Zimmermann’s 1.7 BB/9 ratio led the team where Henry Rodriquez’s 6.2 BB/9 was the highest.

Zimmermann was fantastic pre-All Star break for the Nats going 6-7 with a 2.66 ERA in 18 starts. His overall win-loss record may not be that impressive, but remember this Nationals team did not have any consistent firepower in their lineup with injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche and lack of production by Jayson Werth. There were also a few instances in the season where Zimmermann was the tough luck loser. For instance, Lets take the June 29th game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim where he went 8 innings allowing just one run on 4 hits but was the losing pitcher in a 1-0 Nationals loss.

With a full off-season to strengthen his arm, expectations will be even higher as Strasburg and Zimmermann will make a scary one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Is it reasonable to hope for 15 wins and an ERA under 3.50? I think so.