Section 313, Seat No. 13: Answering the Jordan Zimmermann conundrum

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Back in 1966, Frank Sinatra teamed up with Count Basie at the old Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and recorded the best live album ever produced. About halfway through this album, Sinatra stops for a short monologue called “The Tea Break,” where Old Blue Eyes hammed with the crowd and at one point says, “..Mr. Basie and myself…ran into a string of baaaad luck…last year we invested a bundle of money into a pumpkin farm, and they called off Halloween.”

It seems every time I watch Jordan Zimmermann pitch, the same joke replays over and over in my head. The Tigers, to quote Sinatra, “invested a bundle of money…” in Zimmermann and have nothing but an inflated ERA and multiple Disabled List trips to show for it. So with 2017 over (basically) and 2018 now on the horizon what do the Tigers do with a pitcher who isn’t fooling anyone, anymore?

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays
Jun 30, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (27) walks back to the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 2016 when I got the MLB At Bat update on my phone that the Tigers had signed Zimmermann to a 5 year, $110 million contract, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, really? Here was a guy that had been okay with the Nationals, but I knew he’d had his share of injury struggles, yet not enough to hinder a team from signing him. But signing him for that long and for that much money? That made me look at my phone and think again, well, alright, and closed my phone and went back to whatever it was I was doing at the time.

Fast forward to this week and now I’m wishing I had never received that update. Since he signed that contract Zimmerman has produced one spectacular month (April 2016, 0.55 ERA), one acceptable month (June 2017, 3.82 ERA), and a bunch of unmentionable months. And lately, he’s been just bad. 

So the question becomes, what options do the Tigers have if this obvious trend continues?

Obviously, right out of the gate the Tigers are looking at $74 million over the next three years and hoping to get out of their investment what they thought they would when they initially made the deal. However, Zimmermann is continuing to age and is showing signs of slowing down.

Check out these career numbers for Zimmerman, compared to league average (courtesy of Fangraphs)

Strikeouts / Nine Innings

Swinging Strike Percentage: 

Season E.R.A: Batting Average on Balls in Play: As you can see, Zimmerman is trending in the wrong direction in four very important pitching categories. What’s the say that will get better? Especially when he makes remarks like this:

Good, everyone, just relax, because our $110 million (supposed to be) No. 2 pitcher “is not concerned.” He’s not concerned that his over six ERA, or his 7-11 record, or his nearly two home run a game average this season? “It’s a pretty simple fix.” Right, the same fix we’ve been hearing about all season. News flash, if you haven’t figured it out yet, after 130 games, it probably isn’t a simple fix. In his three previous starts before last night in Colorado, Zimmermann had given up seven earned runs in each, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished for the Tigers since 1935.

Something is definitely broken.

So here’s the proposal, and trust me it’s painful.

The Detroit Tigers should give Zimmermann the rest of this season and Spring Training 2018 to figure out whatever this “simple” fix might be. This should happen under the guise of a rather tenuous, conditional roster spot. If, and only if, he performs he remains a Tigers; if not, bye Felicia.

They shouldn’t go the route of Anibal Sanchez and allow Zim to try and figure it out in the bullpen–because the Tigers owe Zimmermann nothing. Sanchez was understandable because of the good years he had in the Old English D, one good month from Zimmermann does not earn the same.

Sep 25, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (27) pitches in the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Tigers will be eating a big chunk of change, but it has happened before — see Mark Lowe, Mike Pelfrey, and Francisco Rodriguez, just this year! Yes, they’d be on the hook for the money, but sometimes eating the fat is necessary. Also, the Boston Red Sox did the exact same thing this season with Pablo Sandoval–so it is not unprecedented.

If they were forced to eat the money the Tigers could regain the deficit by promoting a younger arm to develop who would be a cheap option. Sure, the results may not be pretty, but in all honesty, have they been with Zimmermann? And during a rebuilding phase, a few losses here and there to get the books right isn’t the worst thing in the world. It seems to make the most sense going into the situation the Tigers find themselves in now. And, if it means not having to relive the awful joke we see played out before us every five days, I’m all for it.

Written by AJ Reilly

A.J. is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid storyteller. His debut novel, The Askren Boys, won the Literary Classics Gold Medal and Seal of Approval in November of 2018. When not writing, he is spending time with his wife Jessica, son Jack, daughter Nora, and new arrival Teddy. A.J. lives in Metro Detroit.

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