When July ended Jordan Zimmermann had a stupid low ERA of 2.28. He now stands a 2.99 just a bad game from popping back over 3.00. That's still good. That's still really good. But to lose 3/4 of a point of ERA in one month this late in the game requires a good drop in performance.
Here are his starts since August began
MIA 5IP, 7H, 1BB, 3K, 0HR
HOU 6IP, 3H, 0BB, 11K, 0HR
SFG 5.2IP, 8H, 2BB, 4K, 0HR
ATL 5IP, 8H, 2BB, 2K, 1HR
PHI 5IP, 5H, 3BB, 3K, 1HR
STL 3.2IP, 8H, 1BB, 3K, 2HR
CHC 7IP, 5H, 1BB, 9K, 1HR
Thta's a 5.54 ERA stretch right there including those couple of gems. What's the problem? A little of everything. He is walking more than he usually does. He's not striking out as many (against the good teams*). He's giving up more fly balls. Any one thing wouldn't do it, but they are all trending the wrong way together. Also he's seeing some reversal of his previous great luck. More of the flyballs are going over the fence. More of the hit balls are falling for base hits. More of the guys on base are coming around to score. He's pitching worse and getting bad luck.
*Everyone goes through rough patches and besides he did have two starts that stood out. He pitched gems vs the Cubs and the Astros. Here's the thing though. The Cubs are the 2nd worst team in the NL in runs scored, with 3.79 per game. The only team worse? The Astros at 3.60. Of course the flipside of that is also true. STL is the best offensive team in the league. The Braves are good. SF is above average. The Phillies have been hot. The Marlins... well there's no good excuse for that.
What does that mean going foward? Well just like the good luck couldn't continue, the bad luck can't as well. He's not going to have 45% of runners score, or have other teams have a .345 BABIP against him the rest of the year. Those should even out.
The pitching worse is something to keep an eye on though. Zimmermann doesn't need to strike out a lot or walk none to be successful, but he usually can't strike out none and walk a few in the same game and be ok. He had 6 games in his first 21 starts where he struck out only 2 or fewer men more than he walked. He's done that 5 times in the last 7 games. Even that wouldn't be so bad if he was giving up more ground balls but that gap has been increasing. Two of his 4 worst games in giving up FBs in comparison to GBs have taken place during this stretch, 3 of his worst 7.
What I would look for tonight, pitching against a below average offense in a park that is pitcher friendly, are these three things. How many does he walk? How many does he strikeout? How many flyball and groundballs does he give up? If these look good, or even if two of three of these look good, I'll take that as a positive. It doesn't matter if they score on him. That can happen with one bad inning where a walk, and a legit hit are combined with a couple seeing eye singles and a bad read by Morse or Bryce. The way he's pitching is more important than the results right now because it gives us higher expectations for results in the future. If two or all of those stats look bad, then I've got to start to worry. Is he tired (171 IP is his most ever and he had pitched 100 and 70 inning prior to the 161 last year)? Is something physically wrong?
ZNN is key to the Nats post-season plans. They need him pitching well or else they have Gio and 3 question marks, a long cry from the "3 studs, maybe more" people we're convinced the Nats had just a few weeks ago.