I wrote about Zimmerman in our First Basemen to Target staff post a few weeks back. I am going to expand on the analysis I did for that post here. Although he has been around for a long time and a known fantasy commodity, Zimmerman is only 30 years old. I have ranked Zimmerman 6th at third base in our staff rankings, while the next closest ranker has him at 9 and he is 14th in the consensus rankings. This either shows that I am crazy or that I am banking on a power increase over last year that others are not expecting.
Why would I expect a power increase for a 30-year-old that was forced to move off third base due to arm issues? Congratulations, you have unlocked the point of this post. The table below is going to be the primary table for the rest of this post, so study it carefully. Basically, I have pulled together his stats for each year of his career. The stats I show are the most relevant to my point.
Whew! I know that is a lot of data, but I will focus your attention on a few key things. First, look how remarkably consistent he has been in his career. His walk rate, strikeout rate, BABIP, average, OBP, SwSTR%, and HR/FB% have been almost the same his entire career. When healthy, he has played 140+ games every year. Those injury-plagued years are easy to spot by looking at the games played (G) column. 2008, 2011, and 2014 are those years. Keep them in mind. As an aside, he did cut his strikeout rate and swSTR% last year, which are good for maintaining a good average. Steamer's .274 might be a little pessimistic. That's just an aside since I am focusing on his power, but still thought you should know.
His ISO and SLG were not quite at career lows last year, but they were down. Also, his HR/FB% was below 10 for the first time in his career. Thanks to Mike Podhorzer at Fangraphs, I can show you this nice graph of Zimmerman's average flyball distance plotted against his HR/FB%.
Remember those injured years? Take a look at those years on the graph. His power drop coincides perfectly with those injuries. Also look at what happened the year after those injuries, when he was healthy again. His distance and HR/FB ratio bounced right back. That is the first bit of good news for his 2015 power.
Next, look at how closely the distance and HR/FB ratio follow each other in the graph. Now look at 2014. The gap between the two curves is larger than ever before. This means that not only did his power drop some, but he was unlucky as well. His HR/FB ratio dropped more than you would expect given his flyball distance. In fact, Podhorzer found that his expected HR/FB ratio last year was 14.6%, way above his actual rate. That is good news number two for his power returning.
Finally, let's look at his injuries in 2014. He hurt his thumb early in the season and missed a month and a half recovering. Thumb injuries are known to sap power. Just ask Ryan Braun, Dustin Pedroia, and many others. He may not have fully recovered from that injury. He missed two more months later in the season with a hamstring injury, but I blame the thumb for the power drop. Assuming his thumb is fully healthy going into the season, I see no reason to believe he can't hit for the same power he did in 2013, with only some small age-related decline factored in.
Zimmerman has normally been drafted in the first three rounds because he is just so consistent, but this year may be a rare opportunity to snag him later than usual. He still qualifies at third base in all formats, but won't after this year, so keeper leaguers will need to keep that in mind. Steamer projects him for 18 homers, but I am obviously more bullish on his power and project 24 homeruns, with increases to his runs and RBI to account for the increased power. That is why he ends up at #6 in my third base rankings. His consistency, power resurgence, good average, batting order position (3 or 4) and excellent lineup make him a good buy in drafts this year. See if you can get him cheap while you still can! Tschus!