Jordan Zimmermann is quietly having his best season in a Detroit Tigers uniform, and one of his best ever. What is he doing differently?
On July 6, Detroit Tigers right-hander Jordan Zimmermann tossed eight innings, giving up one run on four hits. He did not walk anyone and struck out 11. If that surprises you, you’ll be even more shocked to find out that he’s only given up five earned runs in his last six starts – which included three in his first start back from a month-long stint on the disabled list.
So what the heck is going on? Sometimes, pitchers get lucky. But sometimes there’s a noticeable shift in their approach, whether it be a mechanical adjustment, a velocity increase or a change in pitch mix. It’s the latter for Zimmermann, who has drastically changed how often he throws certain pitches.
The Change for Zimm
Basically, someone finally let Zimmermann know that his curveball and slider have both been productive, borderline elite pitches this season, while his fastball has been, ahem, awful.
So, Zimmermann made a change. Notably, he has thrown his fastball less than 40% of the time in each of his last three starts. He has used his two breaking pitches at a much higher rate, which has helped.
His curveball has been complete money this year. Last season, his curveball posted a 33.5% o-swing rate and a 7.9% swinging strike rate. Hitters torched him to a .372 average and a 1.062 OPS. However, 2018 has been a different story. Hitters are currently posting a 42.7% o-swing rate and a 13.3% swinging strike rate. That has led to a .100 average and a .233 OPS.
This drastic difference isn’t completely flukey, as Zimmermann’s curve has undergone some changes as well. He has added about one inch of vertical drop and two inches of horizontal movement, which has likely contributed to a greater rate of swings and misses.
Switching to his slider, Zimmermann has generated a 17.5% swinging strike rate and a .188 opponents average this season. Those are his best marks since 2014 and 2013, respectively. His slider is starting to look more like the wipeout offering it had been during his Nationals days, and that’s a great sign for the Tigers.
It’s worth pointing out that Zimmermann’s last six outings have been against the Rays, Royals, White Sox, A’s, Blue Jays and Rangers. That is a string of bad hitting teams, and has likely played a role in his recent dominance.
However, it also seems possible that Zimmermann could truly have made the necessary adjustments to find his way back to his previous levels of excellence. On the season, Zimmermann now sports a 3.51 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP with a 8.95 K/9, his highest since his rookie year in 2009. That comes with a 3.05 FIP and a 3.64 SIERA, so the results are legit.
Zimmermann’s five-year, $110 million dollar deal has certainly not panned out. However, if he continues to pitch well he could be a nice rotation stop-gap until the young guns are ready.
His contract runs through 2020, and the amount of money owed will make him tough to trade. Having him get the Detroit Tigers through the rough years seems like the best course of action. If he keeps pitching like this, maybe they won’t be so rough after all.