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Looking closer at Tigers' Jordan Zimmermann, pitch by pitch

We know a lot about the numbers of the new Tigers starter, but what can we learn about his raw talent?

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

While the vast majority of the Detroit Tigers fan base is still in celebratory mode over the signing of Jordan Zimmermann, I thought, as well as analysing the numbers as some of my esteemed colleagues have already done, it would also be interesting to look at the raw stuff of the 29-year-old righthander from Wisconsin. I did something similar for Daniel Norris and I hope this analysis will prove just as interesting.

It is always worth remembering that this exercise does not intend to measure the actual quality of a pitch, just its raw characteristics. As with the Norris article, I'll be focussing on average velocity and movement, so what this analysis will therefore not consider is how consistent a pitch is nor how much command the pitcher has with it.

Let's first start by looking at the Zimmermann arsenal and how often he throws each pitch.

Pitch Type Usage Velo (mph) Horizontal (in.) Vertical (in.)
Fastball 64.52% 94.2 -4.61 8.48
Changeup 2.98% 87.3 -8.69 4.83
Slider 20.6% 87.2 2.24 2.27
Curveball 11.89% 79.1 5.37 -5.95

As you can see, heavily fastball reliant. It's also worth pointing out that he's barely ever thrown the changeup his entire career and threw it a measly seven times in the 2015 campaign, so for obvious reasons we'll leave this out and concentrate on what Jordan Zimmermann now is, a three-pitch pitcher.

With his debut coming in 2009, this tied in nicely with the Pitchf/x data starting in 2008, so we'll run with all it has to get the most accurate comparisons. To keep things as even and fair as possible, I filtered the data to only right handed starters who had thrown a minimum of 200 pitches of the same type.

To get the nearest match I again considered three things:

  • Velocity
  • Horizontal movement
  • Vertical movement

I'll be using the Z-Score, the measure of separation between Zimmermann and another pitcher by the above three numbers. The closer the Z-Score, the better and more accurate the comparison, with these parameters allowing me to match as closely as possible to the Zimmermann repertoire.

Let's get started with his main offering.


Top Comp: A.J. Burnett

Player Velo (mph) Horizontal (in.) Vertical (in.)
Jordan Zimmermann 94.2 -4.61 8.48
A.J. Burnett 94.3 -4.48 8.64



There is definitely more sink on the end of Burnett's offering, with the pitches looking very similar up until that point. An interesting point here is that Zimmermann's career fastball pitch value score (per FanGraphs) is 17.2 whereas Burnett's comes in at -39.7, a huge difference and one that can at least partially be attributed to Zimmermann's far superior control with the pitch, illustrated by career walk rates per nine innings of 1.82 vs. 3.62 for Burnett.


Top Comp: Matt Cain

Player Velo (mph) Horizontal (in.) Vertical (in.)
Jordan Zimmermann 87.2 2.24 2.27
Matt Cain 86.6 2.13 2.53



The likeness of the two offerings here is strikingly obvious to the eye. Zimmermann's career pitch value with the slider is a robust 47.2 with Cain coming in at 43, so both have clearly been able to use it as a highly effective weapon throughout their big league careers, with the league hitting both at less than a .600 OPS.


Top Comp: Justin Verlander

Player Velo (mph) Horizontal (in.) Vertical (in.)
Jordan Zimmermann 79.1 5.37 -5.95
Justin Verlander 80.3 5.67 -5.89



I think the word we're looking for here is nasty. There are almost identical looking characteristics on this pitch and it yields similarly dominant results for both men. The league has an OPS of .553 against the Zimmermann hook and .444 against the Verlander offering. What's great to think about is these two curveballs sitting one and two atop the 2016 Tigers rotation, tasty indeed.


So we have the Burnett fastball, the Cain slider and the Verlander curveball. Adding all these together gives you Jordan Zimmermann's arsenal, and a fine one it is too. As ever, I'll say again that this sort of analysis is not predictive. It won't tell how Zimmermann will use these pitches to his advantage in the Olde English D, nor will it predict his 2016 numbers. However, what it it can be is very intriguing to see the sort of bullets a pitchers gun can fire and how those said bullets compare to other, well-known shiny brands.

It's fair to say the overwhelming majority of the Tigers fan base seems head over heels in love with this move. Looking at the raw stuff our new right handed hurler possesses, I'd say their judgment is spot on.