Reports surfaced earlier today that A.J. Hinch and the Detroit Tigers have selected a closer for the season: LHP Gregory Soto.
With an official closer title, that leaves room to question where 27-year-old RHP Joe Jimenez fits into the bullpen, if he does at all, considering the Detroit Tigers also shelled out $13 million on a two-year contract for ex-Oakland Athletics lefty reliever Andrew Chafin.
Hinch did make a point to clarify that even with Soto being the “official” closer, it seems like he isn’t going to shy away from effectively using pitchers outside of the standard bullpen roles which could prove worthwhile for Jimenez.
It wasn’t that long ago when writers started reclaiming the “closer” role for Jimenez, and it was clear that Hinch was giving the hurler a chance to prove himself and build up his confidence in relief after a tough last two seasons.
Jimenez was signed by the Tigers to a minor-league contract in 2013 out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and later was assigned to Gigantes de Carolina. He spent most of his young playing career bouncing around the Minors, finally securing a spot with the Toledo Mud Hens in 2017 and making his Major League debut in April of that same year.
In his debut year, Jimenez pitched 24 games, racking up a 12.32 ERA with 31 hits, allowing 28 runs, four home runs and 17 strikeouts in 19.0 innings pitched.
After a less than stellar debut year, Jimenez redeemed himself in 2018, becoming an All-Star. With a 4.31 ERA, Jimenez struck out 78 batters in 62.2 innings pitched, making 2018 the best year of his playing career. But 2020 proved to be a difficult season for Jimenez, with his ERA rocketing to 7.15 in 22.2 innings pitched, striking out 22, and allowing 7 home runs, the second most of his playing career.
Joe Jimenez Contract Status
Spotrac reports that Jimenez signed a one-year $1.5 million contract with the Tigers settled in arbitration in 2021, with a projected salary of $1.75 million in 2022 and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
With a lifetime 5.72 ERA in 235 games pitched, 1.404 WHIP and a -1.7 WAR, where does that leave Jimenez within an evolving Tigers club?
Joe Jimenez’s Game
When I think of Jimenez, another pitcher that draws similarity is RHP Bruce Rondon. They both debuted in 2013 and could obviously throw hard in a few of their breakout seasons, but seemingly just couldn’t figure it out in terms of command and confidence.
If we take a closer look at some of the stats, Jimenez posted a 29.2% K rate in 2018 with just a slight drop in strikeouts in 2021 sitting at 27.1%. I’ll quote Jim Price here, but looking at his arsenal, Jimenez mainly concentrates on his four-seamer (54%), slider (33%), and changeup (13%).
With a fastball that tops out at 95 mph, it seems like Jimenez still has some room to effectively strike out batters. In fact, according to a report from Evan Woodbery, Jimenez clocked a promising 96-97 mph during recent Spring Training warmups.
ZiPS 2022 Projection
W: 4 L: 4 G: 58 IP: 50.7 K/9: 11.01 BB/9: 4.62 ERA: 4.62 FIP: 4.67 fWAR: 0.1
Could confidence be the only issue standing in Jimenez’s way?
Jimenez spent the winter playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League, the same league he pitched in for the 2015 offseason. He pitched in six games and struck out ten batters over 6.2 innings pitched, putting up a goose egg ERA of 0.00.
It’s clear that Jimenez is doing his due diligence and working at his game and trying to regain the confidence he once had. Under management from Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter, it’s possible that all Jimenez really needs is a boost of morale to get the job done.
With the Chafin signing and being used as a setup man for both the Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s, it would make sense that Hinch could utilize both Chafin and Jimenez to bolster the bullpen with Soto to close out the game.
What’s clear is Jimenez improved his fastball velocity, is willing to work and prove that he earned his spot on the 40-man.