|Jordan Zimmermann fires in his next-to-last game of the season. (C.Nichols/Nats News Network)|
Jordan Zimmermann has been the Washington Nationals best starter this season. Heck, he's been one of the best starters in the National League. But lack of run support -- a common theme for most of the Nats starting pitchers -- has kept his win-loss record under .500.
But a closer examination of some very rudimentary statistics shows us that the Nats actually have a winning percentage of .542 when Zimmermann starts a ball game.
It's an interesting phenomenon. Another is the amount of runs each starting pitcher for the Nationals receive when they start a game. The Nationals average 3.9 runs per game (RPG), tenth in the N.L., despite being next-to-last in the league in on base percentage. That's actually being moderately efficient (or lucky) cashing in base runners.
However, of the Nats five most frequent starting pitchers this season, four of them receive less than the team's RPG in average run support per start (RPG/GS). Zimmermann and Tom Gorzelanny each get about 3.4 runs per game per start. John Lannan isn't much better at 3.7 RPG/GS, and Livan Hernandez just a tick higher than that at 3.8 RPG/GS. So it's not just Zimmermann who is suffering from the lack of run support, it's just about any starter that's taken the mound this season.
Except one. Only the now-departed Jason Marquis got any run support at all from the Nats hitters, at a whopping 5.5 RPG/GS.
Is it any wonder why Marquis is the only one of the five to currently have a winning record?
All of this is a preface to the story of last night's game. Jordan Zimmermann once again pitched fabulously through six shutout innings, allowing just three hits, one walk and one hit by pitch (more on that later). The problem was, the Arizona Diamondbacks' Ian Kennedy was just as effective as Zimmermann, shutting out the Nats over the same time period.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Nats got something going. Jayson Werth (2-for-4) singled to lead off and went to second on a sacrifice by the team's second leading home run hitter, Danny Espinosa. Laynce Nix then walked to put two on with one out. Wilson Ramos came to the plate with Zimmermann's spot on deck, and manager Davey Johnson sent Jonny Gomes to the on deck circle and would have batter should Ramos have reached -- or only made one out.
Unfortunately, Ramos grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, ending the Nats threat. And whether it was the delay, the pitch count, or a lack of focus upon returning to the mound, Zimmermann was not the same pitcher in the top of the seventh.
After getting Chris Young down 1-2 in the count, Zimmermann walked the free swinger with three straight balls, prompting a visit from pitching coach Steve McCatty. On the very next pitch, his 108th and most ever in a Major League game, third baseman Sean Burroughs broke the tie, clobbering a 92-MPH fastball into the home bullpen. It was Burroughs' first home run since -- no joke -- 2005. After giving up a double to Kennedy on the next pitch, Zimemrmann was done.
"He probably maybe tuned out, we had the bases loaded and I was going to pinch-hit for him. And then we hit into the double play," Johnson explained. "And so I wanted to give him one more inning. I don't know if it's the magic number -- I don't it's the magic number of 100 [pitches] -- but I want to give him every opportunity to win the ball game. I figured one more inning, get a chance to score."
The Nats never did get another chance to score, getting set down in order in each of the seventh, eighth and ninth innings in order.
So in Zimmermann's 11th loss, in his next-to-last start of the season, his run support per game average will go down a little bit more. It's just one more piece of evidence to prove that a staring pitcher's win-loss record is a pretty crummy way to evaluate how effective a pitcher they are. They used to call this phenomenon pitching in "hard luck." But it has nothing to do with luck, and more with a fundamental lack of scoring for a team that has been plagued by that problem all season long.
THE GOOD: Zimmermann went 6 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits and two walks, striking out four.
THE BAD: Michael Morse went 0-for-3 with a strikeout with the bases loaded and four left on base.
THE UGLY: 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
THE STATS: Six hits, two walks, 10 strikeouts. 0-for-7 w/RISP, eight LOB, one GIDP. No errors.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:05 against the Diamondbacks. Livan Hernandez (7-11, 4.34) faces Daniel Hudson (12-9, 3.83).
NATS NOTES: Zimmermann hit Justin Upton in the fourth inning, the fifth time this season the Nats have hit Upton. Upton "reacted poorly," according to Johnson, slamming his bat down and staring at Zimmermann all the way down to first base. Kennedy hit Morse in the next inning and both benches were warned. Upton later left the game nursing the sore elbow.
Jayson Werth also left the game with a mild hip/groin strain, suffered chasing Kennedy's double into the corner. He will be re-evaluated Wednesday morning but it is not believed to be serious.
The Nationals introduced their top three draft picks, 3B Anthony Rendon, RHP Alex Meyer and CF Brian Goodwin before the game.
|All photos C.Nichols/Nats News Network|