The Kansas City Royals owned the fifth overall pick in the 2012 Major League Baseball amateur draft. The three top arms—Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, and Mark Appel—still remained on the board after the first three picks, guaranteeing that Kansas City would get one. When the Baltimore Orioles snapped up Gausman with the fourth pick, the Royals made their selection: Kyle Zimmer, right-handed pitcher out of the University of San Fransisco.
After seven arduous, injury-filled seasons for Zimmer and existential, meme-filled seasons for Royals fans, Zimmer finally debuted with the Royals in 2019. While Zimmer was underwhelming this year, he still has some upside, a miracle considering Zimmer’s litany of arm injuries.
It began in August 2012, when Zimmer went under the knife to remove loose bodies in his elbow, a surgery that the Royals at least expected. In his one healthy year in the minor leagues—2013—Zimmer pitched extremely well, ascending to Double-A. But Zimmer was shut down for all but 4 2⁄3 innings in 2014 before his second major surgery in October, this time a shoulder surgery on the rotator cuff and labrum. A variety pack of arm injuries eventually led to Zimmer undergoing thoracic outlet surgery in July 2016. Further injuries and soreness led to the Royals sending Zimmer to Driveline Baseball in 2018. After his stint at Driveline, Zimmer began pitching pain-free for the first time in over half a decade.
Despite not having pitched since 2017, Zimmer made the Opening Day roster, making his big league debut on March 31 against the Chicago White Sox. He struck out two in his first MLB inning, a scoreless one in relief.
Zimmer’s arsenal in 2019 included a four-pitch mix; his fastball ranked in the 92nd percentile among all MLB pitchers in velocity (an average velo of 96.4 MPH, maxing at 99.3 MPH) with above-average spin rate, per Statcast. Unfortunately, that fastball did not lend itself to a successful campaign. Zimmer’s season stats were grim in his 18 1⁄3 innings:
- ERA: 10.80
- FIP: 5.78
- K%: 17.7
- BB%: 18.6
- Triple Slash: .337/.461/.530
Some of it was out of Zimmer’s control. Ned Yost was reluctant to lean on Zimmer throughout the season, and Zimmer never got a chance to work out the kinks. Zimmer pitched in 15 games, almost always in hopeless situations; the Royals lost every single time he pitched, which is quite a feat. Zimmer never pitched on consecutive days in the big leagues, usually going four or more days between appearances. It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you don’t get the chance, and nobody needed to get into a rhythm more than Zimmer.
However, Zimmer’s inability to find the plate—Zimmer walked two or more batters in six out of his 15 appearances—as well as his need to get reps in resulted in him pitching 54 innings in Omaha. While Zimmer was better in Omaha, he wasn’t much better, as he sported a similar FIP (5.20) to his MLB figure and struggled with walks (13.9% walk rate) just the same.
While Zimmer’s 2019 campaign wasn’t a great one, that it was a campaign at all was one of the most fascinating and feel-good elements of the entire season. Zimmer will need to earn his spot in the 2020 bullpen, but as a former first round pick with four pitches and an upper-90s fastball, and as one at the league minimum salary, Zimmer will get a chance to pitch in the future.
How would you grade Kyle Zimmer’s 2019 season?
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