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Ziegler Throws off Mound for First Time Since Surgery

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Last September, Brad Ziegler had micro-fracture surgery on his left knee. If you’ve ever been a pitcher, or even just pitched in your backyard, you’ll understand what a big deal something like this is – left knee, right handed pitcher. While righties are pushing off the rubber with their right foot, they’re planting their left leg, and planting it 6-8″ below the horizon line. I’m sure you’ve walked off a step and had the ground be lower than anticipated – remember the feeling in your entire leg? Now imagine having damage inside your knee, and being a pitcher at the same time. Needless to say, this procedure was important for Ziegler.

Brad has been extremely reliable in an Arizona uniform. Mister dependable out of the pen, posting absolutely phenomenal numbers in his first three years (2011 was a split year between Oakland and Arizona, and BZ pitched only 20 innings for Arizona that year. However, I am counting it as his first year as a Dback) in Sedona Red, then struggling a bit in 2014.

Brad’s Numbers for Arizona are as follows:
2011: 20.2 IP, 1.74 ERA, 1.016 WHIP, 0 HR
2012: 68.2 IP, 2.49 ERA, 1.092 WHIP, 2 HR
2013: 73 IP, 2.22 ERA, 1.138 WHIP, 3 HR
2014: 67 IP, 3.49 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 5 HR

It’s easy to look at those numbers and make an assumption – “his knee was bothering him.” But not so fast. Let’s take a look at something else real quick, to get a better idea of what’s happening. First, you should understand FIP, an important piece that is a calculation of what a pitcher’s ERA would resemble with league average results on balls in play.

Brad’s FIP in an Arizona uniform:
2011: 2.44 FIP
2012: 3.21 FIP
2013: 3.40 FIP
2014: 3.74 FIP

You can look at FIP the same way you look at ERA. For instance an ERA of 3.00 means the pitcher allows 3 runs per 9 innings pitched, which is a simple (tried and true) method of judging a pitcher. But it doesn’t include luck. Take someone like James Shields, with that excellent Kansas City Royals outfield defense behind him in 2014. His ERA was 3.21 but his FIP was 3.59. In other words, Shields allowed 3.21 runs per 9 innings pitched, but it he had league average results on balls in play, his ERA would’ve been 3.59. Make sense? Good.

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Back to Ziegler:

-2011 (again only Dback numbers here) he finished with a 1.74 ERA. Give him league average defense, and his ERA would’ve been 2.44, according to FIP.
-2012 he posted a 2.49 ERA, but a 3.21 FIP.
-2013 a 2.22 ERA, a 3.40 FIP
-2014 a 3.49 ERA, and a 3.74 FIP

Let’s face it – Ziegler (and anybody else in Sedona Red) pitches in a very hitter friendly park. He does a great job for us, because he takes the fly ball out of play most of the time. He induces more ground balls than nearly any other reliever in the game, and that’s important for us. In my spin here, I think it’s safe to assume that Ziegler’s FIP is so much higher than his traditional ERA because the numbers are assuming his double play rates are unrepeatable and abnormal – basically counting them as lucky – when they aren’t.

I think it’s safe to say that Ziegler’s numbers were falling off a bit because his knee was hurting. Look for a bounce back year in 2015.

The point of all this is to celebrate a milestone in BZ’s micro-fracture knee surgery. He’s recovering nicely, and was able to throw off a mound today (Tuesday, February 24th) for the first time since last season.

Thanks to CBS Sports (via MLB.com) for breaking this news.

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