Detroit Tigers: Joe Jimenez’s success crucial for Tigers

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 17: Joe Jimenez #77 of the Detroit Tigers throws a eighth inning pitch while playing the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park on April 17, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 4-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - APRIL 17: Joe Jimenez #77 of the Detroit Tigers throws a eighth inning pitch while playing the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park on April 17, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 4-2. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Detroit Tigers fans haven’t had many things to cheer about so far this season, but the performance of young right-hander Joe Jimenez has been one of them.

The Detroit Tigers can rarely point to their bullpen as a high point of their season. For many years, the Tigers’ bullpen was their undoing, a team with excellent hitting and dominant starting pitching being foiled by inconsistent bullpen play.

So of course when the team decides to rebuild and has trouble generating runs, not to mention an inconsistent pitching rotation, the bullpen shines. While there have been some hiccups, notably Alex Wilson and Buck Farmer‘s struggles, the bullpen overall has pitched very well this season.

None better than 23-year-old Joe Jimenez, who has looked lights out in eight games so far in 2018. It’s always good to see a young player succeed, particularly one who struggled previously. Jimenez’s success is arguably the most important factor for the Tigers this season, for one reason:

They can trade Shane Greene.

Trading Greene

Now, the Tigers are likely going to trade Shane Greene at the deadline, regardless of how Jimenez does. Good relief pitchers fetch nothing short of a King’s ransom at the deadline, and the Tigers would be foolish not to unload Greene for a marquee prospect or two – especially as long as the team is not contending.

Greene’s performance so far this season (4.05 ERA, 11.6 K/9) has been solid as well, which is also vital. It goes without saying, but the better Greene performs the higher prospect capital the Tigers will get in return.

However, relievers tend to bring in solid prospects almost regardless of how they are pitching. While it would be nice to get another Jeimer Candelario like the Tigers got last year, they will get solid prospects even if Greene struggles. Heck, the Astros gave up high-profile outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez last season in order to acquire Francisco Liriano, who had a 5.88 ERA before the trade.

If Greene can keep his current pace up, the Tigers would be able to bring in a prospect that would rank in their organization’s top ten, along with another solid prospect or two. If Greene struggles, they could still get a couple of prospects from a team hoping he will rebound.

Anything the Tigers can get for a 29-year-old reliever who does not fit into the team’s future is gravy. Yes, he is not a free agent until 2021. But the Tigers might as well capitalize now, especially if Jimenez is ready to take over as closer.

Jimenez as Closer

The Detroit Tigers have been touting Jimenez as their closer of the future since he was signed as an 18-year-old back in 2013. Jimenez cruised through the minors, posting ERA’s under 2.50 and K/9’s over 12 at virtually every stop along the way. He peaked as high as number six on Detroit’s top 30 prospects, and was expected to compete for the closer role right away.

2017 saw Jimenez post a 1.44 ERA and a 12.96 K/9 in 25 innings with Triple-A Toledo. He had proven all he needed to prove at that level, and was promoted to the Motor City. Things didn’t go quite so hot in Detroit, as Jimenez struggled with his command. He posted a 12.32 ERA and a 4.26 BB/9. His 8.05 K/9 wasn’t too bad, and his .403 BABIP and 38.5% strand rate indicated that he got a little unlucky.

Going into 2018, it was hard to know what to expect from Jimenez. So far, he has answered any doubters with a strong performance. In 7.2 innings across eight games, Jimenez has an 8.22 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, a 0.00 ERA, 2.01 FIP and a 0.78 WHIP.

Fastball usage

A big part of Jimenez’s success so far this season has been how he attacks hitters with his fastball. This season, Jimenez has attacked hitters up in the zone with his fastball, which has led to a ridiculous 76.9% fly-ball rate by opposing hitters. 30% of those are infield fly balls, the easiest out in the book (besides a strikeout). Those numbers will likely regress, but it’s clear Jimenez is making an effort to generate more pop-ups.

Opponents posted a 25.6% line drive rate off the fastball last year, compared to only 7.7% this year. Again, the sample size from this year is pretty small, but as long as Jimenez is generating a lot of weak contact and/or swings and misses, he should remain an effective to borderline elite closer.

Next: Who should start in LF?

Do not be surprised to see the Detroit Tigers employing Joe Jimenez as their closer for the second half of 2018. He has all the tools and pedigree to keep the job for many, many years to come.