clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Was Jordan Zimmermann’s last start for real?

Zimmermann is looking to build on his last outing, his best in a Tigers uniform.

Detroit Tigers v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

When we say that Jordan Zimmermann’s last start was his best in a Tigers uniform, it’s not hyperbole. Zimmermann held the Tampa Bay Rays to just two hits in seven scoreless innings five days ago, a hard-luck 3-2 loss. He struck out five and walked one. He has had better outings on that front already — he struck out eight and walked one in an Opening Day loss — but no outing was more complete than that gem he threw on April 30.

According to Bill James’ Game Score metric, Zimmermann scored a 77 in his last start. It was his best score since August 12, 2015, when he struck out nine hitters in a 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers... as a member of the Washington Nationals. He also had a 77 Game Score in that outing. The last time he topped 77 was on the final day of the 2014 season, when he threw a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins.

So... can he do it again? We’ve been talking all year about how Zimmermann’s stuff has looked better this season than in years past. His slider is sharper, and he’s throwing it more often than ever before. He is currently sporting his best strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2014, and his best strikeout rate ever.

But this might not be the best matchup for Zimmermann. While the Royals have been one of the worst offenses in baseball so far this year, they have the lowest strikeout rate in the game. Statcast doesn’t like what happens when hitters make contact against Zimmermann — they’re hitting the ball hard nearly 40 percent of the time, and have a higher exit velocity than in 2016 or 2017.

Luckily, Kansas City hasn’t been so great at hitting for power, something that has bitten Zimmermann in the past. They are the one team he has had a stranglehold over, even as his ERA has otherwise crumbled around him; he has a 1.50 ERA in 30 innings against Kansas City since donning a Tigers uniform.

Detroit Tigers (13-18) at Kansas City Royals (10-22)

Time/Place: 4:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 5.81 ERA) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (0-3, 4.91 ERA)

Game 32 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 26.1 23.7 5.3 4.27 0.5
Hammel 36.2 12.0 7.6 4.18 0.4

Jason Hammel hasn’t been as bad this year as his ERA suggests. The Tigers saw that firsthand a couple weeks ago, when he limited them to two runs in nine innings before his bullpen coughed up a walk-off home run. Hammel’s ERA was down to 3.20 after that start, even though he had given up five runs in an earlier start against these same Tigers. It jumped to 3.38 after his fifth start of the year, a loss against the high-powered Milwaukee Brewers. It wasn’t until his last start that Hammel’s ERA ballooned — it went up by over a run and a half after he gave up eight runs to the Boston Red Sox.

But if advanced metrics are any indicator, there could be more starts like Hammel’s last one in his near future. Hammel’s early success has been largely predicated on limiting home runs — he has allowed just three so far, and two came in that start against Boston. His 4.18 FIP reflects this, and would normally suggest that better days are ahead were it not for his early home run luck. His xFIP and SIERA, however, are a full run higher, at 5.17 and 5.29, respectively. His .376 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) is nearly 100 points higher than his .289 wOBA allowed this year.

Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. hitting for power

Unfortunately, this Tigers team might not be the best club to take advantage of Hammel’s regression-prone profile. They rank dead last in the American League with just 25 home runs hit this season, and are the AL’s fifth-worst offense in terms of isolated power (ISO). Their home run leaders aren’t the guys you would expect — Jeimer Candelario and Leonys Martin have four dingers apiece — and, in Martin’s case, might not stay on that 20-homer pace for the entire season. Miguel Cabrera has the team’s best offensive profile so far, and he’s currently nursing a hamstring strain. John Hicks and James McCann have been trending upward lately, but unless the bottom of the lineup steps up, those two will continue to get stranded on base.


The Tigers’ lineup gets shut down again in another loss.

Gameday reading