Joe Jimenez has made a habit out of putting up ludicrous numbers and going on streaks that make you wonder what the heck he's still doing in the minor leagues. Well, we’re happy to report that he’s right back at it. Jimenez is currently on a streak of 15 consecutive scoreless outings, one that stretches all the way back to the end of June. More importantly, this streak could be the one that finally pushes Jimenez into a more permanent place on the Detroit Tigers’ 25-man roster.
For a player who originally went undrafted* and finished the 2015 season in Single-A, he has made one incredible climb through the minor leagues. He started the 2016 season in Single-A ball, but breezed up to Triple-A, where he has been for almost a full calendar year. He is a primary reason Al Avila and the Tigers front office have little concern at the thought of trading closer Justin Wilson.
Jimenez made a couple of appearances in the majors earlier this season, during which he received a taste of the hard knocks that all young pitchers go through as they reach the major league level. After those appearances with the Tigers, he was sent back down to Toledo in order to work on his secondary pitches, specifically his changeup.
A few weeks later, a back muscle injury sidelined Jimenez from May 5 until his first rehab appearance in Advanced-A Lakeland on June 15. He quickly returned to his normal role as the Mud Hens’ closer, but he blew his first save opportunity. Two days later, he threw just eight pitches (only three strikes), and allowed a walk, a hit and a run. Fast forward five more days and he surrendered a home run, which cost the Mud Hens the game.
Something about that walk-off has really set Jimenez off. Since that outing on June 24, he has made 15 consecutive appearances without allowing a run. He has converted two save opportunities during that time and recorded a hold as well. He has pitched at least a full inning in all 15 appearances, and recorded more than three outs in two outings. He has been efficient — besides the two multi-inning appearances, Jimenez has only thrown 20-plus pitches in an outing twice.
During his scoreless streak, Jimenez has brought his batting average against from .313 all the way down to .221. His ERA was at 4.50 and now sits at a sexy 1.50. His WHIP has also come down significantly, from a staggering 1.88 to a respectable 1.25. His strikeout rate on the season is 34.3 percent, and he has a walk rate is 11.1 percent. Of the 72 outs Jimenez has recorded this season, nearly half have come via the strikeout.
A big part of Jimenez’s success comes from an increase in ground ball outs. Jimenez was getting bit hard by fly balls when he first returned from his injury. Before the scoreless streak, he only induced 0.17 ground outs per fly ball out. Now, that ratio is up to 0.79.
With this streak of dominance as well as Justin Wilson’s likely departure — not to mention Bruce Rondon’s recent issues — Jimenez will likely earn another look at the major league level, if not a permanent spot on the big league roster.
While we can’t say for certain, Jimenez would likely benefit from not being rushed into high stress situations when he comes back to the major leagues. We saw him struggle early on, both when he was first brought up and after he returned from his rehab appearance in the minor leagues, immediately thrust into the closer’s role. A younger player like Jimenez could also benefit from a concrete role out of the bullpen. A guy that is just getting his feet wet in the majors is not going to build confidence getting thrown into terrible situations at random times during the second half of a game. This will allow him to establish confidence prior to taking on higher leverage innings for the Tigers.
*Jimenez went undrafted in 2013 due to high bonus demands, not a lack of talent. Most scouts agree he would likely have gone somewhere in the top 10 rounds.