When I saw Dunkirk last weekend, I realized how important a great score and sound editing can be to a movie. Similar to how anxious moments in horror films are set up with ominous chords lingering in the background, Hans Zimmer’s infamous ticking and ability to build suspense fit Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster to a T. As I walked out of the theater, ears ringing and heart filled with lust for Tom Hardy, I gave a quick call to my man Zimmer, and asked if he’d be willing to drum up some music for each of Bradley Zimmer’s at bats in 2018. You won’t be surprised to discover that Hans never answered, which is due in part to me never actually calling, but hey, a boy can dream right?
Right around the All-Star break, analysts have a tendency to reflect on what happened in the first half. For those with an ear to the ground for rotisserie leagues, a lot of focus lingers on players who contribute in both home runs and stolen bases. Arbitrary thresholds are placed at double digits in each, as we feverishly search for hitters that we never expected to see there. At the time, to find players with this double-digit contribution in each category, you’d venture to studs like Paul Goldschmidt, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve, later incorporating surprises like Elvis Andrus, Brett Gardner, and Chris Owings. As stolen bases are often a buck-shot statistic – attempting more usually means producing more – it’s important to realize each of those players mentioned played 80 or more games in hitting that mark…
Bradley Zimmer is tying the knot on the best week of his career; clubbing two homers and stealing a pair of bags, all while keeping his strikeout rate to an enviable 15.8%. Small sample size? No doubt, but my enlightenment came when Zimmer’s 2017 stat line displayed seven home runs and 12 stolen bases… in only 63 games. Quietly, a prospect ranked inside the top 30 for consecutive years has produced a valuable return to modest applause.
Is it because of the strikeouts? Zimmer’s 26.7% strikeout is a little scary, but taken in context, this is the lowest his whiff rate has been since a 50 game sample back in AA with the Akron Rubberducks (a name rivaled only by the rebranded Binghamton Rumble Ponies). If you’re expecting a magical, Kris Bryant-esque cut in his strikeout rate, Zimmer likely only needs to plug one of the many holes in his discipline profile – which is a roundabout way for me to say I have hope for the future.
The pitches Zimmer chases, he isn’t making contact with, while pitches in the zone he isn’t particularly efficient with either (8th percentile outside zone contact rate, 20th percentile zone contact rate). Even more perplexing is the rookie’s stature as not only a high variance player, but one who has a high variance zone. Like most hitters, Zimmer has a tendency to whiff at an above average rate on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone, yet unlike those players, Zimmer has a concentrated area of success on pitches high and tight. In that specific, up-and-in quadrant of the strike zone, according to BrooksBaseball.net Zimmer whiffs about 41% of the time, yet slugs a healthy 1.500 (yes, that’s his slugging percentage).
Even more solace comes when we realize Zimmer doesn’t have a glaring issue with his discipline – 50-60th percentile in both chase rate and overall swing rate – but rather, his large frame and long swing might make it tough to put bat on the ball when he is swinging.
When Zimmer does make contact, however, he has been extremely productive. Developing a nice ability to go the other way has been a staple of his rookie campaign, with his home run spray chart evenly distributed through the outfield (with three deep doubles to left field that could have been homers in a lot of parks). The worry about Zimmer ‘getting under’ too many pitches is viable, but with a league average infield fly ball rate (8.3%), his ability to make solid contact, even on those swings makes most of his batted balls dangerous enough to remain productive. Zimmer has also barreled 10% of his batted balls this season, a number that puts him around the 75th percentile for players with 120+ batted balls (right next to Corey Seager and Marcell Ozuna for reference).
At 6’4″ it always stands out to me that Zimmer has the third fastest sprint speed in baseball, above players like Dee Gordon and Trea Turner. If you’re wondering how this relates to fantasy, 12 for 13 on stolen base attempts this season is extremely efficient (only 17 qualified hitters with 10+ attempts last season converted at a rate of 80%+). If there is any way I can be confident in a player’s ability to maintain stolen base production year-to-year it hinges on efficiency. Zimmer has gone against the grain, becoming more efficient as he progressed through the minors (33 for 46 on SB attempts in AA last season) and that only makes me swoon over the display of his wheels on the big stage. Is Zimmer a 30+ stolen base asset? I think that’s a bit too optimistic, but 20-25 in an average season, given this rate of success shouldn’t be far from the truth.
Wrap up those stolen bases with peripherals pushing for 18-20 home runs and you can see why Zimmer is so intriguing in roto formats, and especially in dynasty leagues as he refines aspects of his games.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the Player Rater with googly eyes rest of season for Zimmer. He’s less than 30% owned in ESPN leagues; perched inside the top 175 rest of season as the 47th ranked outfielder. Steamer/Razzball is giving him five more homers with nine bags and a .242/.317/.398 slash line across 46 games – a 12/20 player in only 100 games. If Zimmer can ride the BABIP gods with his line drives and speed, I would love to see a .265-.270 average in a full season of work. Take my optimism, add in consistent playing time and 2018 could bring with it feasible line of 17 home runs, 25 stolen bases, 80 runs, 70 RBI, and a .265 average. That sounds a lot like 2015 Lorenzo Cain with an average drop, or 2016 Gregory Polanco with a bit less pop. Both are top 125 levels of production, with upside for plenty more.
Zimmer’s stock is only going to rise and the real test comes with where early 2018 ADP numbers are placing him in roto drafts. I’m already prepping an under-drafted blurb for early in 2018 when Zimmer likely finds himself outside of the top 40 outfielders, and 150 overall. Whether your looking for a bit of speed/power production rest of season, or already thinking ahead to 2018, the Indians have found another gem for your fantasy use.
It’s often tough to believe in a player with a strikeout rate this high. After observing the volatility of players like Keon Broxton, I understand the caution many may exercise, but Clint Frazier’s AA teammate reminded me more of a player Grey ranked very aggressively coming into 2017: Max Kepler. Although their fantasy production is slightly different, I was thinking more about the confidence Gray had in the player’s tools coming to the forefront to outproduce their draft slot.
I wasn’t deft enough to coax out of Grey his early 2018 rankings (still trying!), but he was gracious enough to write a little blurb that echoed many of the thoughts I have on our dear friend Zimmer…
Bradley Zimmer, or as I like to call him Bradley Zimmer, is a talent that is as rich in meaning as the definition of ‘rich’ and/or ‘meaning.’ If you were to take his stats this year and do a very rudimentary prorating job, he’s on a 162-game pace of 65/15/75/.280/25. Oh, I’m sorry, you doing what I was expecting from A.J. Pollock? I didn’t ask you to be A.J. Pollock, but I guess you are A.J. Pollock. Those numbers are obviously suffering from him sitting in the nine hole way longer than we would’ve liked, so you can even bump up his runs and RBIs, if you like. The strikeout rate is bit higher than I’d like (~27%), the walk rate is lower (~8%), but he’s only a rookie. With modest gains on Ks and walks, we’re looking at a guy that could return top 20 outfielder numbers as soon as next year. As I once said sitting on a man dressed as a horse, giddy up! -Grey
Lance is always happy to talk more below or in the world of Twitter! @LanceBrozdow.