Prior to the 2016 season, many Detroit Tigers fans expected Jordan Zimmermann to have an ERA+ that started with the number '1.' They didn't expect that stat to have four digits, though. Zimmermann has a 0.35 ERA through his first four starts of the season, which has translated to a whopping 1093 ERA+, best in the major leagues.
Obviously, this isn't going to continue. We said the same about Zimmermann's shutout streak, which ended in his last start against the Oakland Athletics. Zimmermann wasn't as sharp as we have seen in that outing, elevating his fastball and slider more than usual. He gave up seven hits and only struck out one hitter, ultimately allowing three runs (one earned).
Speaking of that fastball-slider combination, Zimmermann has been throwing more of it in 2016. Well, the slider, at least. Zimmermann has lowered his fastball usage to 56 percent, the lowest rate of his career. Meanwhile, he is throwing his slider 32 percent of the time, by far the highest of his career. He continues to use his changeup sparingly, while cutting down a bit on how often he throws his curveball.
What does this mean? Not much, yet. Zimmermann threw a lot of sliders against the Pirates and Royals, a pair of starts in which the bender seemed particularly sharp, but relied more on his fastball in his last outing.
Can he keep things rolling against the Twins?
Detroit Tigers (12-10) at Minnesota Twins (7-16)
Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (4-0, 0.35 ERA) vs. RHP Tyler Duffey (0-0, 2.25 ERA)
Tyler Duffey relied almost exclusively on a two-pitch mix last season, throwing either a fastball or curveball more than 95 percent of the time. While PitchFX classified his fastball as a four-seamer more often than not, he induced a healthy 49.7 percent ground ball rate in 58 innings last season, helping him hold opponents to a 3.10 ERA. Duffey's peripherals were also solid despite the limited arsenal, with a 21.9 percent strikeout rate and 2.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The problem for Duffey and the Twins is that he doesn't have a long track record of striking out batters at an above average clip in the minor leagues. He fanned a batter per inning in 52 2/3 innings at Double-A in 2015, but fell off that pace when he moved up to Triple-A. He posted a 9.8 percent swinging strike rate at the major league level last season, but that number has fallen off considerably (in a very brief sample) so far in 2016.
While originally projected to be a reliever at the major league level, Duffey could eventually stick in the back of the Twins' rotation. His curveball is a legitimate weapon, though it remains to be seen if he can maintain the 18 percent whiff rate it induced last season. Even if hitters make more contact against it, all they did was pound it into the dirt, a big reason why he only allowed four home runs in 58 innings. He has started to throw his changeup more often this year, and will need it in order to keep hitters off balance.
Tigers hitter to fear: Nick Castellanos (.500/.500/.833 in 6 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Anthony Gose (.167/.286/.167 in 7 plate appearances)
The Tigers faced Duffey twice in September 2015, and were limited to just three runs in 12 1/3 innings. Duffey and the Twins won both meetings easily, though an abysmal Tigers pitching staff was also to blame.
There is reason for optimism, though. The Tigers offense had their chances against Duffey last fall, collecting 15 hits and three walks in the 12 2/3 innings he worked. Nick Castellanos had a pair of doubles in six at-bats, while J.D. Martinez also hit a double. In fact, every hitter the Tigers sent up against Duffey had at least one hit, though some (looking at you, Anthony Gose) didn't do much more than that.
The Tigers offense has been on a roll since manager Brad Ausmus juggled the lineup, scoring 25 runs in their previous three games. They have struggled against pitchers like Duffey this season, however, According to FanGraphs' pitch values, the Tigers have been below average against cutters and curveballs, the latter of which Duffey features quite heavily.
His margin of error is slim, though. Zimmermann has been one of the best starters in the American League thus far, and the Twins have struggled to score runs all season long. According to the same pitch value metrics, the Twins are among the worst teams in baseball at hitting fastballs and sliders, the bread and butter of Zimmermann's arsenal.
Zimmermann gives up his first home run of the season but the Tigers win their fourth straight.
Editor's Note: New players win cash in their first daily fantasy league or get their entry fee refunded! Offered in SB Nation's partnership with FanDuel, your hub for daily fantasy baseball and more.