By Eriq Gardner //
Many people are no doubt still mourning the loss of Stephen Strasburg as an exciting young pitcher this season and next. At some point, Strasburg will be back — and when he returns, hopefully he’ll perform as sharply as his teammate, Jordan Zimmermann, has pitched in the aftermath of Tommy John surgery.
Zimmermann’s rookie season may not seem so special with a 4.64 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. But before he went down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow midway through the 2009 season, he was being mentioned as a top prospect in the Nationals rotation. That year, Zimmermann struck out a batter per inning and walked fewer than three batters per nine innings. His xFIP, a measure of ERA stripped of defense and bad luck, was an outstanding 3.39.
Many forgot about him, thanks to the more than 12 months of recovery. But the evidence so far this season reaffirms the fact that Zimmermann is on the verge of becoming an excellent starter in fantasy leagues. On rehab, in 10 games in the minors this season, he posted a 1.59 ERA with 31 strikeouts to six walks in just under 40 innings.
On August 26, he was recalled to the Nationals rotation to make his season debut. It was a little rocky with five earned runs allowed in just four innings — but he also struck out four and allowed a single walk. Zimmerman followed up that performance with an impressive nine-strikeout shutout of the Marlins on August 31. His last start was shakier: 4 IP, 4 BB, 2 K, 3 R, 3 H.
Zimmermann’s fastball is down a tick from 93 MPH last season to about 92 this season, but it’s not something to be especially concerned about, especially considering the small sample set. What’s especially encouraging is that the surgery and long lay-off hasn’t eroded his ability to get batters to swing and miss. His last start did raise some concern about controlling the strike zone, though.
It’s possible that he goes into next season with a pair of seasons of 4+ ERA, a major surgery, and a lack of limelight due to his extended absence and last-place employer. But he’s an intriguing sleeper down the stretch of this season in deep leagues. And if you’re in a keeper league with some depth, he’s a must add.