Milwaukee Brewers: A deeper look at Jimmy Nelson’s breakout season

CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 29: Jimmy Nelson
CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 29: Jimmy Nelson /

Jimmy Nelson has had a career season and has quietly been one of the best pitchers, not just for the Milwaukee Brewers, but in the National League. Here’s a deeper look at what Nelson has done this year. 

Jimmy Nelson came into 2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers with an unclear future. After a shaky 2016, 2017 was a prove it year for Jimmy.

Nelson has proved it this season. Through 17 starts, he is 7-4 with a 3.20 ERA. If it weren’t for a bad April, in which he pitched to a 5.34 ERA in five games, he would probably be among the league leaders in ERA.

That 3.20 ERA is much better than the 4.62 ERA he finished with in 2016. There’s a lot of season left, but Jimmy has gotten stronger as this season has gone on.

He went toe to toe with Clayton Kershaw in early June, striking out 11 in eight no decision innings. He also struck out 10 in a complete-game on June 18, and then struck out 11 at Cincinnati on June 29th.

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Nelson already has 112 Strikeouts this season and is on pace to shatter his career high of 148 strikeouts.

So what’s so much different with Jimmy Nelson this season? Well, it started with his offseason program. Nelson practiced Pilates, which helped him strengthen his core and lower body. Outside of his new program, Nelson also played with his arsenal of pitches. He added a split changeup.

His changeup has been a pretty average pitch this season, according to Pitch Info Pitch values on FanGraphs. It’s rated as 0.7 runs above average, but that is improved from 2016 when his changeup was -1.9 runs below average. So basically he has saved .7 runs this year with his change.

Nelson is only throwing his changeup about 3% of the time, but just getting it as an average pitch is huge. It’s his fifth pitch, and having a good fifth pitch keeps hitters on their toes.

Jimmy has also seriously improved his sinker and curveball this season. His sinker is rated at 8.3 runs above average, while his curveball comes in at 7.8 runs above average, according to Fangraphs.

He throws his sinker more than any other pitch, and his curveball is his most used offspeed pitch. Both of those pitches were rated as below average in 2016.

Nelson’s ratings on his four-seam fastball and his slider have been below average, but his other pitches have been so good, it hasn’t affected him as much as one might think.

Nelson’s command has also been much improved. Last season he was walking 4.32 batters/9. This season he has cut his walks/9 down to 2.16.

I touched above on his strikeout totals, and how he has been striking out a ton of batters this year. So far this season he has struck out 9.69 per/9, much improved from his 7.03 strikeouts/9 in 2016.

With better command also comes less long balls. Nelson surrendered 25 home runs in 2016, along with 1.25 HR/9. Through 17 starts Nelson has only surrendered 10 home runs and .87 HR/9 according to FanGraphs. 

Finally, Nelson has also added just a tick on his velocity. According to Pitch Info Pitch velocity, all of his five pitches have gone up in velocity. The Biggest increase is in his changeup, which has gone up over a mile per hour.

Jimmy has also been flying under the radar for his ability to strand baserunners this year. He’s stranded 77% of baserunners this year, compared to 71% last year, according to FanGraphs. He’s also sitting at a WAR of 2.8, which puts him at 8th in Major League Baseball

It’s honestly been pretty incredible what Jimmy has been able to do this year. He’s turned into a shutdown option for the Milwaukee Brewers. Him and Chase Anderson, when healthy, are two really solid options at the top of the rotation.

If the Milwaukee Brewers want to continue their hot start into the postseason, they will need Jimmy to keep pitching at an elite level.