I guess I should lead off this story by admitting that I — and we, the Bless You Boys staff — don’t know how Joe Jimenez is feeling. We don’t have access to the young righthander, and other than hoping he answers our queries on Twitter, we have no way of checking in with him on a routine basis. All of the evidence we’re presenting here is circumstantial, and we have to hope that the Detroit Tigers know a lot more than we do.
They usually do...
It really seems like they’re over-using Joe Jimenez this season, aren’t they? Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire admitted two weeks ago that the Tigers need to limit Jimenez’s innings down the stretch, and has done just that; Jimenez has only pitched in five games since Gardenhire’s comments on August 11, totaling four innings. Despite the decreased workload, however, Jimenez is already just one out away from a career-high innings total with over a month left in the season.
Innings alone don’t tell the full story. Jimenez has thrown 958 pitches this year, more than 100 more than he threw in both 2016 and 2017. He has also faced a higher percentage of hitters with runners on base this year than he did in 2016, though a lower ratio than in 2017. We don’t have minor league leverage index figures readily available, but Jimenez’s average leverage index of 1.39 in 2018 dwarfs the low leverage situations he found himself in for most of his 19 major league innings last year.
In short, not only will Jimenez throw more innings this season than at any point in his career, but he will throw more pitches and do so in higher-stress situations.
We might already be starting to see the consequences
Normally, a pitcher’s fastball velocity peaks in August. Jimenez’s peaked in June. He hasn’t tailed off to a dangerous level since then, but his average fastball is down by a full mile-per-hour compared to June.
His peak fastball velocity tells a similar story, ranging from one to two miles per hour lower than it was earlier in the year.
The actual numbers speak for themselves too. Jimenez put up a 2.77 ERA with 44 strikeouts to nine walks in 39 innings through June 30, but has an 8.16 ERA since then. He still has a high strikeout rate, but has walked 10 batters in 14 1⁄3 innings. After Friday’s outing, Jimenez has allowed runs in four of his eight outings in August, and five of 12 appearances since the All-Star break.
Luckily, these numbers don’t suggest anything more sinister at play. A drop of just one mile per hour on the fastball doesn’t hint at an injury, and he is still able to reach back for 97-98 mph when he needs it. But if he’s hitting a wall heading into September, the Tigers would be wise to further scale back his innings down the stretch. They will need him to work 60-70 high quality innings in the future, but pushing him to that mark in 2018 when he already appears overworked has no benefit whatsoever.
This doesn’t mean they need to shut him down. The Tigers could get more creative with his usage in September, and limit his innings with the expanded roster at their disposal. Moving him out of high-leverage situations is one easy solution, and it gives them a chance to assess how other players like Buck Farmer or Victor Alcantara would do in a setup role.