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Tigers vs. White Sox Preview: Should we start to trust Jordan Zimmermann again?

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A recent rough patch appears to be short-lived, as Zimmermann is coming off two solid outings.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Those who have read these previews consistently this season should remember that I haven’t really known what to think of Jordan Zimmermann this year. The 32-year-old righthander has put up excellent strikeout and walk numbers all season long. His 4.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio is his best since 2014, and the second-best of his entire career. Advanced metrics like FIP and xFIP don’t like him quite as much as they did earlier in the year, but his results have been much more volatile than his ERA/FIP/xFIP slash line would suggest.

What’s more puzzling is that Zimmermann’s results don’t just vary from start to start. A pitcher who blanks the opponent for seven innings in one outing and then gets rocked for seven runs in his next start is inconsistent, but there’s a randomness to it that someone paying close attention can appreciate. Zimmermann, on the other hand, has weeks of consistent performance before violently swinging in the other direction.

Take the past two months, for example. Zimmermann was dynamite after coming off the disabled list in late June, posting a 1.80 ERA in his first four starts. He had 24 strikeouts to just one walk during that stretch, and limited opponents to a .473 OPS. His next three starts, however, were reminiscent of the Zimmermann we have seen over the past few years. He gave up 13 runs on 24 hits in 14 23 innings, and the Tigers lost all three games.

Zimmermann’s last two starts have been similar to his pre-All-Star break form. He limited the high-powered Oakland Athletics to just two solo home runs in 6 13 innings of work, and then held the Minnesota Twins to just two unearned runs in 6 13 frames in his last outing.

Can Zimmermann continue his recent run of form against the White Sox?

Chicago White Sox (42-76) at Detroit Tigers (50-69)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Carlos Rodon (3-3, 2.61 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-4, 3.98 ERA)

Game 121 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Rodon 72.1 19.9 9.6 4.36 0.9
Zimmermann 83.2 21.0 4.6 4.14 1.3

While he currently boasts a shiny 2.61 ERA, Carlos Rodon is basically the same pitcher we have come to know over the past few years. A drop in strikeout rate has offset slightly improved command in his 72 13 big league innings this season, resulting in a 4.36 FIP right in line with his career numbers. He is currently benefiting from a .207 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and a strand rate of 81.7 percent, well above the league average of 73 percent. His batted ball profile supports these numbers, but I wouldn’t expect him to maintain a line drive rate of just 15 percent for much longer.

Given the nature of Rodon’s absence — shoulder injuries are bad news for pitchers — his current performance has to be very encouraging for the White Sox. Rodon’s velocity has held steady compared to last season, though it has dipped slightly in the month of August. His swinging strike rate is lower than what he produced from 2015 to 2017, but not drastically so. If this recent dip in velocity is nothing more than a blip, we should see his strikeout numbers return to normal going forward.

Key matchup: This game vs. sanity

The last two times Jordan Zimmermann started against the White Sox, utter chaos erupted. The Tigers mounted a huge comeback to win a 9-7 decision in Zimmermann’s first outing against the Sox this year, and punted away a five-run lead only to ultimately win a 7-5 decision back on June 16. A pitcher who gives up runs in bunches, like Zimmermann, is more prone to outings like this, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the Tigers get out to an early lead and cruise to a low-stress win.

Prediction

The Tigers get to Rodon early and win the series.

Gameday reading