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Joe Jimenez may be just what the Tigers’ bullpen needs

Here’s why you should be excited about the young reliever.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Andrew Miller, Mike Henneman.

These names all come to mind when asked to name a homegrown Tigers’ reliever. These men all have had, or are currently having, storied careers at the major league level as relief pitchers. All were drafted and made their breakthrough in the Detroit Tigers’ organization.

Andrew Miller is the only exception because Miller started his career with the Tigers as a starting pitcher and wasn’t too good. Of course, after being traded in the Miguel Cabrera deal, he made the switch to reliever and he’s been dominant ever since. That’s just four solid relievers to come out of the Tigers’ organization in the last twenty-five years. There haven’t been a whole lot of successful relievers to come out of Detroit overall, and especially in recent years. Soon, however, you’ll be able to one more name to that list, and his name is Joe Jimenez.

This year he was invited to spring training for the second year in a row before being optioned down prior to the end of March. He is the Tigers number five prospect according to Jimenez has only made two appearances for Toledo so far this season before being called up on April 10th when Bruce Rondon was optioned down.

First Performance

Jimenez made his major league debut on Thursday April 13th, 2017 at Comerica Park in the ninth inning of the Tigers final game against the Minnesota Twins in their three game series. He pitched a one-two-three inning and tallied a strikeout. He threw thirteen pitches, nine of which were strikes, two swinging strikes, one called strike and four foul balls. Only two of the thirteen pitches were put into play.

Victim #1: Chris Gimenez

If Chris Gimenez spelt his name with a “J” maybe then Big Joe would show him a little mercy. Haha, just kidding. Jimenez made quick work of Gimenez on four pitches, Gimenez fouled off two fastballs and took a slider for a ball between fastballs before being retired off a third fastball when he filed out to left fielder Mikie Mahtook for the first out.

Pitch Stats vs Gimenez

Pitch Type Velocity Spin Rate Extension Perceived Velo Result
Pitch Type Velocity Spin Rate Extension Perceived Velo Result
4SFB 96.34 2549 7.23 96.86 Foul
Slider 84.74 2180 6.53 84.57 Ball
4SFB 95.28 2419 6.79 95.04 Foul
4SFB 95.17 2495 7.17 96.36 Flyout

Victim #2: Eddie Rosario

Rosario, the next victim, is the first and only batter of the game to see a Joe Jimenez change-up. He saw two of them around 88mph, one of which he swung a missed at. He also saw three fastballs before being retired on a high pop-out to shortstop Jose Iglesias.

Pitch Stats vs Rosario

Pitch Type Velocity Spin Rate Extension Perceived Velo Result
Pitch Type Velocity Spin Rate Extension Perceived Velo Result
Change 88.23 2192 7.11 89.44 Ball
4SFB 96.06 2504 6.99 97.16 Foul
Change 88.68 2249 7.39 90.78 Swinging Strike
4SFB 95.88 2498 6.68 95.99 Ball
4SFB 95.91 2522 6.65 95.32 Popout

Victim #3: Byron Buxton

Poor Byron Buxton. Already hitting under .200 on the season, he didn’t stand a chance against a hungry Joe Jimenez. Jimenez starts him off with his hardest fastball out of the eight he threw, at 96.54mph, that Buxton takes for a strike. Jimenez follows that up with another fastball at 96mph before throwing two sliders getting Bryon to chase the second slider out of the strike zone for a swinging strike three.

Pitch Stats vs Buxton

Pitch Type Velocity Spin Rate Extension Perceived Velo Result
Pitch Type Velocity Spin Rate Extension Perceived Velo Result
4SFB 96.54 2512 6.51 95.70 Called Strike
4SFB 96.03 2540 6.75 95.45 Foul
Slider 82.73 2031 6.46 82.15 Ball
Slider 85.00 2142 6.46 84.62 Swinging Strike

Outlook on Joe Jimenez

With Jimenez you’re going to see a mix of three pitches. A four seam fastball between 95-97 touching 98, a change up between 87-90 and a slider between 83-86. He’ll primarily throw his four-seamer but will mix in his change up to keep hitters off balance. He’ll be working on the slider to be his “out” pitch, like it was against Byron Buxton although we will see a lot of strikeouts come from his fastball. It’s not just Jimenez’s arsenal and velocity that are going to enable him to succeed, it’s his spin rate, extension and thus his perceived velocity that are really going to separate him from the rest of major league relievers.

In his first appearance Jimenez threw eight fastballs and not a single one of the fastballs he threw had a spin rate below 2,419RPMs, his average for the appearance ended up at 2,504RPMs. For comparison, Justin Verlander was third among all major league pitchers last season in four-seam fastball spin rate with 2,561RPMs. Verlander is often the MLB’s benchmark for fastball spin rate as he has had one of the highest and most consistent spin rates since it started being tracked, so Jimenez is definitely in good company there.

Another huge plus with Jimenez is his extension and perceived velocity. According to’s definition, extension quantifies exactly how much closer a pitcher's release point is to home plate. In simpler terms it’s how far the ball is from the pitcher’s plate when it’s released, which tell us how much shorter the distance it needs to travel in order to cross home plate. If the extension on a pitch is greater than the average extension, which is just over six and a half feet, the pitch will appear to be traveling faster than it is because it’s released closer to home plate.

The speed the pitch appears to be traveling is known as the perceived velocity or effective velocity. Jimenez gets great extension on his fastball so it appears to the batter to be traveling faster than it is because it has less distance to travel, and the hitter has less time to react. He also achieves especially good extension on his changeup which helps mask that it’s an off-speed pitch, giving him a better chance to fool the hitter when he throws it.

Jimenez Statcast

Pitch Type Avg Velo Avg Spin Rate Avg Extension Avg Perceived
Pitch Type Avg Velo Avg Spin Rate Avg Extension Avg Perceived
4SFB 95.90 2504.88 6.85 95.99
Change 88.46 2220.50 7.25 90.11
Slider 84.16 2117.68 6.48 83.78

Based upon all pitchers who’ve thrown at least ten pitches in a major league game this season compared to the stats above, Joe Jimenez is twenty-second in average fastball spin rate and twenty-sixth in perceived velocity and is thirty-eighth in average velocity. There are 389 pitchers that met that criteria when I completed the search.

Right now Jimenez has all the skills and tools needed to succeed at the major league level he just needs experience and time to build consistency and confidence in order from him to evolve into a top tier major league reliever. If you’re looking for something specific that he will be working on after his first major league appearance, I see him working with the pitching and bullpen coaches to tighten up his delivery to get a more consistent release point. This seems to be the only issue with Jimenez’s first major league outing after researching it top to bottom.

The chart below shows that his slider and changeup release points are a bit lower than the rest and there are a couple fastballs in which he released the ball a bit higher than the rest as well.

The first issue with an inconsistent release point is the inconsistent command and control that often results from it. The picture gallery below shows a pitch-by-pitch breakdown of Eddie Rosario’s at bat against Jimenez, where McCann called for the pitch and where the pitch was delivered. Several pitches were well off their intended target which can be fixed by consistently repeating his mechanics and release point. He did deliver a couple of the pitches right on the money, including the swinging strike changeup he threw. This shows Joe has the ability to command his pitches when he repeats his release point.

The next chart shows a side by side comparison of Jimenez’s release points from his first outing and Shane Greene’s release points from his outing six days ago as an example of what your release point chart should look like. Greene threw four different pitch types but it’s pretty hard to tell that without the chart legend and that’s exactly what you want. Tightening up the release point will ensure consistent velocity and break, as well as make it harder for the batter to distinguish which pitch type he’s throwing. More importantly it will ensure Jimenez is able to put the ball right where he wants it allowing him pitch to the best of his ability.

A lot of people were unhappy that Jimenez was sent down after showing what he did in his first major league appearance but it may work out for him. Jimenez had a little extra time to work on some things and refine his skills a bit before taking another stab at major league batters. We know the Tigers and the fans are ready for Joe Jimenez, the front office just wanted to make sure Joe Jimenez was ready for the Tigers.

Now that he’s back, the Tigers will want to try easing him into high leverage situations but with the recent bullpen struggles they may have no choice but to bring him in during a close game. One thing that will be very interesting to see is when the Tigers use him with a three run lead or less will he be a setup man or the closer, because there are arguments for both.

He’s been a closer for the last several seasons so naturally I could see him taking over the closer role if Francisco Rodriguez continues to struggle. That may be a lot to be asking of Jimenez this early, so it seems more likely he will be used as the setup man and the Tigers looking to Justin Wilson to close games if Rodriguez continues down that closer’s path that is oh-so familiar with Tigers fans. If Rodriguez rebounds like some experts are predicting, then you may see a 7th-8th-9th pairing of Joe Jimenez, Justin Wilson and Francisco Rodriguez, which would be a really solid backend if we see the 2016 version of Rodriguez.

That would also allow the Tigers more flexibility with Alex Wilson allowing him to pitch in the 6th or earlier if needed, as well slide in for one of the back-end guys since there may be stretches where the Tigers need them several nights in a row.

Wherever we see Jimenez he will be exciting, and he’ll be bringing a good energy with him to the Tigers’ bullpen. When the last good reliever to come out of your organization is Joel Zumaya and knowing his history, I can understand the caution shown by the Tigers front office to take the reins off one of their top 5 prospects, especially with the lack of experience above the Double-A level. But now that he’s back you’re going to get to see what he’s really capable of and I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people around the league.