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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Jordan Zimmermann is trying to get himself, Tigers back on track

The Tigers turn to Jordan Zimmermann to snap their four-game losing streak.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

It’s a bit scary how quickly Jordan Zimmermann can find and lose his command these days. During his last start, I got a little excited after he dusted Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino with a pair of high fastballs for a strikeout. Nine pitches later, he had allowed back-to-back home runs. While he picked up a relatively easy win, it was his third consecutive outing allowing five earned runs. He has just eight strikeouts to six walks in those three starts, and 11 strikeouts in 22 23 innings this season.

There are some major red flags here, such as the Mike Pelfrey-esque strikeout rate. Zimmermann has also allowed a 47.5 percent hard contact rate, and 1.59 home runs per nine innings. He has the highest xFIP of any starter in baseball (minimum 20 innings pitched), and his ERA is 10th. Stats like FIP (5.51) and Deserved Run Average (5.29) suggest some improvement is in order, but not much.

There may be a silver lining here, though. Zimmermann’s fly ball rate is a whopping 48.7 percent and he has managed an 18.9 percent pop-up rate, the highest of his career. High rates like this usually result in better-than-average batting averages on balls in play (BABIP). However, Zimmermann’s BABIP is .329, over 30 points higher than his career norms. With some better luck — And better defense? Please? — we might start to see that ERA fall to a palatable level.

Chicago White Sox (13-9) at Detroit Tigers (11-12)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Miguel Gonzalez (3-0, 2.00 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2-1, 6.35 ERA)

Game 24 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Gonzalez 27.0 18.5 7.4 3.37 0.6
Zimmermann 22.2 11.0 7.0 5.51 0.0

On Saturday, I explained all of the reasons why Derek Holland’s hot start was not going to last. Clearly, it didn’t work. While we may eventually look back on this and say “Yup, told you so,” regression can be unpredictable.

It usually happens, though. It will likely happen to Holland, and it will also likely happen with righthander Miguel Gonzalez. The former Baltimore Orioles starter has a perfect 3-0 record and 2.00 ERA through his first three starts of the season, but there are some major red flags. He has a .244 BABIP, which is 30 points lower than an already-low .274 career BABIP. He has allowed home runs on just 5.4 percent of fly balls generated, the 14th-lowest rate in baseball. While Gonzalez managed a similar trick last season, no qualified starter’s HR/FB was lower than 8.4 percent.

Before we completely dismiss him, however, there are some positive underlying trends. His pop-up rate is also much higher than usual, and he has allowed hard contact on just 22.5 percent of balls in play. His 11.8 percent line drive rate is unsustainable, but the weak, lazy fly balls have always been Gonzalez’s M.O.

Key matchup: Tigers pitching vs. Avisail Garcia

Avisail Garcia has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season. He leads the White Sox with 1.2 fWAR, and is hitting a cool .376/.418/.635. His five home runs, 15 runs scored, and 20 RBI also lead the team. While he certainly seems to have finally figured something out, his 1.053 OPS (and .450 BABIP) will not continue for five more months.

However, we have seen this from Garcia before. In 221 career plate appearances against Tigers pitching, he is hitting .291/.335/.478 with nine home runs. Relative to his modest career numbers, Garcia has been 26 percent better against his former club. He is a blistering 8-for-19 against them this season. Given his continued hyper-aggressive approach at the plate and excellent career numbers against fastballs, the Tigers (and Zimmermann, in particular) might want to mix in a few more off-speed pitches.


The Tigers’ current four-game losing streak has featured some bad baseball in all aspects of the game. They have struggled to hit team’s starters despite scoring early in most games, and have not pitched well. Their defense has continued to look awful as well. They could use a vintage Zimmermann start in the worst way, but Chicago’s aggressive, fastball-loving approach matches up well against the Tigers’ struggling righthander.


Zimmermann struggles again and the Tigers get swept.