KC Royals: Kyle Zimmer is ready for a full season on the mound

Kyle Zimmer (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Kyle Zimmer (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

It’s finally time to see what a full season might hold for Kyle Zimmer with the KC Royals.

Between now and Opening Day, the Kings of Kauffman writers are analyzing how various KC Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is relief pitcher Kyle Zimmer. 

It’s no secret that the KC Royals currently employ a large group of pitchers, both veterans and prospects. Some of these players have made a name for themselves and some are just starting on that journey. One player whose name is well known but is also still working to find his major league role is Kyle Zimmer.

Zimmer was drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft out of the University of San Francisco. While he quickly got to work for the Royals, many fans and likely Zimmer himself, wondered if he would ever finally get his chance in Kansas City.

Zimmer’s career so far has unfortunately been plagued by injury and setbacks. As soon as he looked to be on track again, he’d take a few steps back.

He missed most of the 2014 and 2016 seasons due to injury, missed pieces of others, and was out for the entire 2018 season. He was on a minor league contract with the Royals for 2018 and while he elected free agency after the season, Kansas City wasn’t ready to give up on the former first-round pick.

They re-signed him to a contract in January 2019 and he finally made his way to the majors. 2019 was again rough for Zimmer. He spent his season bounced between Triple-A and the majors. In Kansas City, Zimmer pitched 18.1 innings, giving up 22 runs, struggling greatly with walks, and holding an ERA of 10.80 and FIP of 5.78.

Still, the Royals weren’t giving up. Zimmer was back in the lineup during the shortened 2020 season and he finally saw some success. While he saw some time on the injured list to end the season, before this he was able to throw 23.0 innings, giving up only 4 runs, held a SO/9 of 10.2 and BB/9 of 3.9, and held his ERA at 1.57 and FIP at 2.36.

2020 was a complete turnaround for the pitcher and just a glimpse of what the Royals know Zimmer can do. There is still work to be done but Zimmer is likely to be one of the bullpen arms for the Royals in 2021.

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Zimmer’s 2021 season

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs agree fairly well on their projections for Zimmer and both see a drop in production. Baseball Reference has Zimmer pitching 59.0 innings with an ERA of 4.58, SO/9 of 9.3, and BB/9 of 4.3.

FanGraphs has Zimmer pitching a similar 55.0 innings with an ERA of 4.66, SO/9 of 8.66, and BB/9 of 5.37.

What will the season in Kansas City actually look like for Kyle Zimmer?

So far in spring training, Zimmer is struggling. He has done well to continue with strikeouts, getting 7 over 7 innings, but he has also walked 6. Both of his projections show him struggling with walks more than in 2020, but spring training is also difficult to decipher.

His struggles so far could be from him working on secondary pitches, or him just trying to get some work and see how everything feels as he has an extensive history with injury.

Either way, Zimmer is still a likely candidate to be in Kansas City on opening day. He has been with the organization for a while now and at 29, it’s now or never. He proved that he could be a dependable arm in 2020 and the Royals will want to give him a chance to show that again in 2021.

The question for Zimmer now, though, is how he will hold up for a full season. 2020 was short and he found 23 innings of work. In a season where he could be expected to throw 50 or more, will his arm hold up?

It would not be out of the question to see some regression from Zimmer for this reason. While he has seen full seasons in the minors, things will be different in the major leagues and he could see some issues come from that. But with continued adjustments and work, Zimmer could once again be a strong bullpen arm for the Royals in 2021.

Expect to see Zimmer working as a reliever even if he sees a few issues. It’s likely the Royals will want to see if he can work through them. Zimmer waited a long time for his major league opportunity, and it’s finally time for him to get his chance at a full season of work.

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Kyle Zimmer could see some struggle in 2021, but there is still much to be seen. Expect to see him in Kansas City as a bullpen arm.