Image: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
2021 age: 28
Bats: Left; Throws: Right
Contract: Pre-Arb (1 minor league option left)
2020 stats: .162/.360/.243 1 HR, 2 SB, 3 RBI, 50 PA, 84 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR
2020 in review: Zimmer got a limited look in Cleveland’s hockey-line changes style outfield last year. But once he was optioned out, he pretty much never came back. They preferred to go with Delino DeShields Jr. and Oscar Mercado. His strikeout rate, in a limited look, was lower than we’d seen it and he showed patience at the plate, which he’s typically had. He had time to hit a homer and steal a pair of bases before his exile.
Offensive impact: It’s no secret what Zimmer’s game is offensively. He’s got big, raw power but doesn’t get to it in games because of how long his swing is and how much that makes him swing and miss. He also runs very well and can be an impact player on the bases. He’s capable of being a patient hitter and work a walk. In 2017 in 203 batted balls he averaged over 90mph on his batted bell velocity, which is a good level. In 2020, he was down to 84.1 and hit the ball in the air more frequently than in the past. But some of that could have been the stop-and-start nature of training due to COVID and the late summer start. He’s mostly been a fastball hitter in his career too which has held him back. In his last real long look in 2017, four years ago now, somehow, he had 18 steals and eight homer in 101 games.
Defensive impact: With his long legs and strides, Zimmer covers a lot of ground. However, he’s never graded out more than average in centerfield. We’ve also seen his that aggressive style of play in centerfield has led to injuries. In left and right he’s graded out much better, but only to the tune of +1 DRS (defensive runs saved), although Baseball Savant’s OAA (Outs Above Average) has him +1 in center and 0, and -1 in LF/RF. Still Zimmer is generally a good defender, even if not special.
Beyond the stats: The most obvious thing about Zimmer right now is that he’s undergone two or three swing/stance changes. It was such a limited sample in 2020, but it looks like he was not only trying to be quicker to the ball, but hit the ball in the air more. His 43.5 FB% rate was the highest of his career, by over 10%. Unfortunately his batted ball velocity dipped with that. It may have worked to cut his strikeouts to a playable level with his patience and speed. Maybe with more time with his new swing he can find a happy medium on batted ball velocity and flyball rate.
2021 role: It looks like Zimmer is going to get a chance to compete for a big league role. He’ll have to earn his playing time in centerfield or rightfield. He might even platoon with Jordan Luplow if that’s the way things shake out. He’s 28 and has one more option, so the clock is ticking on Zimmer’s star and time in Cleveland quickly.
Fantasy impact: If he has a platoon big league role, he might get you some steals and an OBP boost if your league counts that, and the occasional homer if he can make some contact. He’ll probably drag your batting average down. Deep league bench flier only, but monitor his progress and chances at a spot this spring. In shallower leagues just monitor his role as a waiver claim for cheap steals.