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Tigers vs. Twins Preview: We’re still trying to figure out Jordan Zimmermann

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Zimmermann has given up runs in bunches, but his advanced metrics this season are still quite strong.

Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

For all the back-and-forth we’ve had about Jordan Zimmermann this season, his underlying numbers have stayed remarkably consistent. Even during his most recent lull — he has a 6.43 ERA in his last four starts — he still amassed 17 strikeouts to six walks in 21 innings. His worst recent performance on that front, oddly enough, was his last start, a solid 6 13 inning performance against the high-powered Oakland Athletics. Zimmermann gave up two home runs again, something he has done in each of his past four starts, but was otherwise able to dance out of trouble with runners on base.

Navigating traffic on the bases has been a problem area for Zimmermann this season. Opponents are hitting just .240/.280/.444 against him with no one on, but .294/.316/.523 with runners on base. That OPS jumps to .870 with runners in scoring position — nearly 150 points higher than what opponents produce with no one on base.

Zimmermann’s recent struggles may also be explained by the quality of competition he has faced. Three of the last four teams he has faced rank in the top half of MLB teams in offensive production, and two — the Indians and A’s — have a team wRC+ of 105 or better. The Twins are not that team; their 92 wRC+ is tied for 19th among MLB teams, and they are even worse (84 wRC+) on the road.

Can Zimmermann snap the Tigers’ losing streak on Friday?

Minnesota Twins (53-61) at Detroit Tigers (47-68)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ervin Santana (0-0, 6.14 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (4-4, 4.31 ERA)

Game 116 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Santana 14.2 13.2 5.9 6.70 -0.1
Zimmermann 77.1 22.5 4.9 4.24 1.1

We knew the Twins’ season was in trouble even before it began. Ervin Santana, the ace of their 2017 staff and veteran leader heading into 2018, had surgery on his right middle finger in early February. As you might imagine an injury like that makes it very hard to pitch, so Santana was on the shelf for a while. By the time he returned in late July, the Twins were already 7 12 games out of the AL Central race and just days away from selling at the trade deadline.

As luck would have it, the rest of the Twins rotation did exactly what they needed to in Santana’s absence. Their 4.29 ERA this season isn’t great, but still around the middle of the pack in the American League. Young righthander Jose Berrios took a major step forward to become the team’s No. 1 starter, and Kyle Gibson finally figured out strikeouts. The rest of the rotation kept things afloat. The offense, on the other hand, failed miserably. Their 93 wRC+ ranks fifth-worst among AL teams, just a year after finishing among the top five in the league. The bullpen was also bad.

As for Santana? This graph just about says it all.

Yup, that’s a four mile-per-hour drop in average fastball velocity from last season. His top heater has only gone 91.7 miles per hour, nearly two mph slower than his average fastball from last year. His command has been shoddy as well, with four walks and four home runs allowed in 14 23 big league innings so far.

Turns out its very hard to pitch after having finger surgery.

Key matchup: Niko Goodrum vs. hunting fastballs

While Ervin Santana isn’t throwing his fastball as often as usual this season, the ones he has thrown have been awful. Opponents are hitting .294 and slugging .588 against the fastball this season (in a very small sample).

Goodrum, meanwhile, is quite good at hitting fastballs.

Save for Santana throwing nothing but sliders, this seems like a good matchup for the Tigers.

Prediction

The Tigers snap their losing streak in game one.

Gameday reading