Why Do the St. Louis Cardinals Own Jordan Zimmermann?

Robert WoodCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2012

Oct 8, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (27) looks on after giving up a solo home run to St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig (21) during the third inning of the 2012 NLDS at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Jordan Zimmermann of the Washington Nationals should have filed his own protest with MLB regarding the controversial infield-fly rule during the NL Wild Card game on Friday Oct. 5. 

If MLB had ruled in favor of the Atlanta Braves, Zimmermann would have pitched against the Nats' NL East rival on Monday instead of facing the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that absolutely owns him. 

In five career regular season starts against the Atlanta Braves, Jordan Zimmermann is 2-1 with a 3.81 ERA. 

In five career regular season starts against the St. Louis Cardinals, however, Zimmermann is 0-1 with a 9.12 ERA. 

And those numbers did not improve one bit on Monday in St. Louis.  Zimmermann completed only 3.0 innings as the Cardinals tagged him for five earned runs, including four in the bottom of the second, as the Cardinals crushed the Washington Nationals 12-4 in Game 2 to even the NLDS as it heads back to Washington for the remainder of the series, starting with Game 3 on Wednesday. 

So why do the St. Louis Cardinals possess such domination over Jordan Zimmermann, who had a career year for the Nats in 2012? 

Because the St. Louis Cardinals' approach at the plate perfectly matches Jordan Zimmermann's approach from the mound. 

Zimmermann throws strikes.  This season, he had a career-high first pitch strike percentage (1st%) of 69 percent and he averaged 3.84 pitches per plate appearance (P/PA), both indicative of being around the plate. 

And his splits for balls and strikes support this theory.  Of the 186 total hits Jordan gave up this season, 30 came on the first pitch, more than any single pitch count.  Furthermore, 23 hits came on a 0-1 count and 25 came on a 1-1 count.  All told, Zimmermann gave up 91 hits with a 1-1 count or earlier. 

Conversely, only 74 of Jordan's hits—or 40 percent—were surrendered after a 1-1 count. 

Jordan Zimmermann's ability to locate the strike zone plays right into the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Cards have a lineup full of aggressive hitters who love to swing early in the count.  To this point, the St. Louis Cardinals totaled 1,526 hits on the season and 265 came on the first pitch, more than on any other pitch count.  Only 522 of the team's total hits—or 34 percent—came after a 1-1 count. 

The most aggressive of the Cardinals' hitters is Yadier Molina.  This season, the starting catcher collected 41 hits and batted .380 on the first pitch of an at-bat.  In his nine-year career, Molina is batting .318 on the first pitch. 

Closely following Molina in this controlled aggressiveness are Allen Craig and Jon Jay.  The Cardinals starting first baseman collected 21 hits for a .512 average and the starting center fielder had 15 hits and a .385 on the first pitch this season, respectively. 

The aggressiveness of all three would figure prominently in chasing Jordan Zimmermann from Monday's game. 

Zimmermann retired the Cardinals in order in the bottom of the first inning, striking out one batter and inducing two ground balls to second base.  He threw a total of 14 pitches, and looked to be cruising along. 

But looks were deceiving, and the aggressive Cardinals began to unravel Zimmermann's playoff debut in the second inning.  Allen Craig led off the frame by seeing an uncharacteristic two consecutive balls from Jordan, before reaching on an infield single on the sixth pitch of the at-bat. 

And then Yadier Molina got the fun started for the Cardinals as only he knows how.  He hit the first pitch he saw from Zimmermann into center field, advancing Craig to third.  After David Freese doubled to score Craig and Daniel Descalso singled to score Molina, Zimmermann finally recorded the first out of the inning by striking out Pete Kozma swinging.  Zimmermann induced another ground ball out from Skip Schumaker, but David Freese scored to make it 3-1 St. Louis. 

The aggressive Jon Jay completed Zimmermann's long inning by lining a 1-0 pitch into left field to score Descalso, before getting thrown out at second base trying to stretch the hit into a double.  When the inning ended, the Cardinals led 4-1. 

Zimmermann faced the same deficit in the bottom of the third inning.  He quickly retired the first two hitters of the inning, after Carlos Beltran flied a 1-0 pitch to right field and Matt Holliday grounded out to second on a 2-1 count. 

But just when it looked like Zimmermann would have his second 1-2-3 inning of the game to slow down the Cardinals' momentum, he again fell into trouble early in the count against an aggressive hitter. 

After Zimmermann evened the count at 1-1 against Allen Craig, the Cardinals first baseman crushed a fast ball into the left field seats, increasing the St. Louis lead to 5-1.  Two batters later, Zimmermann was out of the inning.  But thanks to the aggressive hitters in the St. Louis lineup, he was also out of the game.  Zimmermann made 24 quality starts of at least six innings in 2012, equaling 75 percent of his starts.  Yet he failed to do so in his first postseason appearance. 

Now the NLDS between the Nats and Cards is tied 1-1, and it's anyone's series.  Jordan Zimmermann has to hope his teammates can win the next two games at home so he does not have to face his nemesis one more time in a decisive Game 5.  Then, the Cardinals would own the opposing pitcher and the upper hand.