Bruce Zimmermann Is a Fast-Rising Oriole Who Believes in Science

Bruce Zimmermann stood out in Orioles camp this spring. That wasn’t entirely by accident. The 25-year-old left-hander had begun opening eyes last season, and he reported to Sarasota having visited Driveline over the winter. No wheels were reinvented during his week at the Seattle-area facility, but his mechanics did undergo some fine-tuning. And not from scratch; Zimmermann had already started down that road thanks to Baltimore pitching coordinator Chris Holt.

Last year was Holt’s first with the Orioles, and Zimmermann was fairly new himself. The Baltimore native joined the organization in July of 2018, coming over as part of the trade-deadline deal that sent Kevin Gausman to Atlanta. The Braves had taken Zimmermann in the fifth round of the 2017 draft out of the University of Mount Olive, where he earned a degree in business management.

Asked about his course of study, Zimmermann told me that he considers himself a good problem solver, and if baseball didn’t work out he’d have laid the foundation for a career in project management. Analogy in mind, I posited that being a pitcher tends to lend itself to problem solving.

“Hopefully not, but yes,” responded Zimmermann, who logged a 3.60 ERA in 140 innings last year between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. “That’s one way to look at it, but I prefer to see it more as critical thinking and processing things in the moment. When you’re on the mound, you don’t really think in an analytical way; it comes across more as intuition. But you are creating a strategy for certain hitters, and whatnot, before the game. That follows along the lines of problem solving.”

The juxtaposition — intuition on one side, critical thinking on the other — prompted me to ask if he considers pitching to be more of an art, or more of a science?

“That’s actually a really good question,” said Zimmermann. “I like that. I guess I’d say that I’ve always considered it an art — everybody has their own unique way of attacking; it’s an art in that it’s individualized — but as of late, I’ve definitely seen the science behind it. That’s become more prevalent, with analytics and the ability to break down your mechanics, and all of your pitches.”

Which brings us to Driveline. The southpaw went west with specific goals in mind. He wanted to take advantage of the facility’s motion-capture lab — “It’s state of the art for baseball” — and address any inefficiencies in his mechanics. He already had a good idea of what they were, thanks in part to the aforementioned Holt. Which isn’t to say that his delivery was out of whack. It never has been.

“The tweaks were pretty subtle, and I attribute a lot of that to my dad,” explained Zimmermann, whose father played at the University of Dallas. “He was my pitching coach growing up, and he helped me create orthodox mechanics that didn’t have a lot of inefficiencies that could compound themselves over time. So it was really just me becoming more of an athlete on the mound, kind of feeling a smoother type of rhythm and timing throughout my delivery.”

The smoothing out took place almost entirely below his belt. Zimmermann’s Driveline assessments showed that his upper half was sound, so it was mainly a matter of improving his lower-half mechanics. More specifically, the sequencing of his lower-half mechanics.

“That’s something we noticed when I was working with Chris Holt,” shared Zimmermann. “I took what we found to Driveline, and the subtle changes I’ve made are helping me use less energy through my mechanics, while at the same time allowing me to gain a little bit of velocity. My repeatability and consistency have also gotten better.”

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound lefty also devoted some of his Driveline time to pitch design. His curveball was the primary focus. Currently his fourth-best pitch, Zimmermann hopes to develop it to a point where it can be a reliable option alongside his four-seam fastball, two-seam circle changeup, and slider. Wanting to make what he considers his best weapon even better, he also zeroed in on certain aspects of his changeup — the goal being to “figure out different ways to throw it in different scenarios.”

The scenario that saw him become an Oriole was a vital stepping stone in his climb from obscure minor-leaguer to legitimate pitching prospect. While his trip to Seattle proved to be productive, getting under Holt’s wings was probably even more important. Had that not happened, Driveline may not have happened either.

“When I came over in late July [2018], it was basically, ‘Continue to do what you’re doing and we’ll evaluate how you go about things,’” Zimmermann explained. “Then, last year with Chris Holt coming over from the Astros, it became more of a process-based approach. That’s when we made a couple of changes to how I attack hitters, and started working toward the subtle mechanical changes. That’s when I really started seeing some positive jumps in my results.”

Unranked a year ago, Zimmermann enters this season No. 18 on our Orioles Top Prospects list.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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