Saving Detroit: Jordan Zimmermann takes tennis lessons

Following an injury-curtailed 2016, 2017 has been anything but the bounceback for which Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann hoped. Little is trending in the right direction or going well for him in the second year of his five-year contract with the Tigers.

According to a recent report, the neck injury that caused Zimmermann to miss time in 2016 is continuing to cause mechanical problems for the pitcher in 2017. One of the consequences is a decreased ability to locate his pitches, and, while he apparently believes the needed adjustments are too significant for an in-season fix, during his most recent start, it sounds like he’d had enough:

He resorted to a quick fix Friday night, so rudimentary it seems almost silly. He wasn’t hitting his spots against the Los Angeles Dodgers’ imposing lineup — he couldn’t get the ball in to lefties, or away against righties — so he tried something he has never done before. In the fifth inning, he moved from the third-base side of the rubber, where he has pitched his entire career, to the first-base side of the rubber.

After giving up six runs over the first four innings, he figured had to try something, anything. He moved a mere five or six inches,

“Basically, I’m on the third base side and I’m missing middle. So if I move over to the middle of the rubber, I’m moving myself over five or six inches, it’s allowing me to get inside for lefties and away to righties,” Zimmermann explained.

It felt strange, but there was some marginal improvement.

Zimmermann said when he threw a fastball in, up and in, it stayed more true. It didn’t run back at all. He struck out Adrian Gonzalez in the fifth inning with three curveballs.

“It feels like I almost had to throw it in our dugout to get to the other side of the plate,” Zimmermann said. “But it went where I wanted it to, so that was the good thing.”

The difference in release points was enough to show up on these Brooks Baseball plots, which show Zimmermann’s 2017 release points excluding his last start followed by the two distinct release points he used in Friday’s game:

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I’m highlighting this not because I think it’s any sort of meaningful solution– Zimmermann thinks it helped, and it’s hard to find sufficiently granular data to evaluate in-game strategic shifts like this (his overall zone rate on Friday night actually was slightly lower than his full-season average)– but because it shows how desperate Zimmerman is for any measure of improvement, even a false one. He undoubtedly will work on this in the offseason, but, for now, he’s just like any ordinary person who doesn’t have the time or resources for a proper adjustment and looks for something easy to keep the game going. I recognized the move immediately because it’s what I do when I play tennis. Among many faults in my game is an inability to control the depth of my serves, which usually land well deep of the service box. Some lessons with a professional probably could help identify and correct the problem in my service motion. I have so few opportunities to play, though, that I want to spend them with family and friends, not in a training session with a stranger. That’s why, if I bomb the first serve deep, I just take a couple steps backward and try it again.

Of course, Zimmermann’s more than an amateur who’s given up on his dreamshallucinations of making it as a competitive tennis player, so it will be interesting to see what real changes and adjustments we see from him in 2018, as well as how he positions himself on the mound in his remaining starts this season.

Minutiae, trivia, and the undead rumors of a Justin Verlander trade: welcome to the last six weeks of the Detroit Tigers’ 2017 season.

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Previously
Tigers Notes, 8/8/17 – 8/8
Decoding the Upton Myth
– 8/2
Even the umpires just wanna go home
– 7/21

Yo, a J.D. Martinez trade comp – 7/19
Martinez trade triggers premature referendum on Avila – 7/19
Michael Fulmer has righted the ship
 – 6/27

Tigers in Retrograde – 6/19
Fixing Justin Upton
 – 5/31

Soft in the Middle Now – 5/30
Reliever Relief, Part 2 – 5/11
Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context

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The arc of the ALDLAND universe is long, but it bends toward this weekend

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If there are two things I’ve written about with consistency at this weblog they are 1) the Detroit Tigers and 2) the Atlanta Braves’ foolhardy abandonment of their downtown home at Turner Field. Beginning tonight, and for the next two days thereafter, these two ALDLANDic worlds will collide when the Tigers face the Braves in the final three games ever to be played at the aforementioned Turner Field. More than anything, I am grateful that we will be able to attend each of these games, live and in person. These are critical games for the 2016 Tigers, teetering as they are on the edge of postseason qualification, and they are historic games for the City of Atlanta. I have little more to add at this juncture other than that I am very excited.   Continue reading

Catching Fire: Boy, the starters need to carry that weight a longer time

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The Detroit Tigers’ new starting pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann, has been excellent in 2016. He’s only allowed two earned runs in five starts, all Detroit wins,  and he didn’t allow a single run of any variety through his first three games. He’s been the number-one starter the Tigers needed, especially with Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez offering good-but-not-great performances as they settle into the season. Ostensible fourth starter Mike Pelfrey has not been good at all, posting career-worst numbers virtually across the board. Shane Greene started strong, as he did last season, but a blister has temporarily sidelined him, which allowed the team’s top prospect, Michael Fulmer, to snag a big-league start in Greene’s absence. Daniel Norris showed promise as a starter last season and this spring, but he’s currently on a rehab assignment recovering from a back injury.

As a group, the rotation has been decent, and there are indications that they’ll continue to improve, especially if Verlander can find his groove now that news of his preseason engagement to Kate Upton is public and healthy mixtures of Greene, Norris, and Fulmer can replace Pelfrey before too long.

Overall, this is good news for Tigers fans, who also are enjoying a blissful period of strange and unusual– in light of the team’s recent history– bullpen success. After a month of play, this feels like a satisfyingly complete team.

One potential cause for concern (a Tigers fan always can locate at least one) in all of this good news is that the shiny new Detroit bullpen may have been on display a bit too much through this first month of the season. It’s lovely that they’ve been doing so well, but they need to last to October. I don’t think Brad Ausmus has done a poor job of allocating relief innings among his bullpen staff in 2016, but I think his starters’ collective failure to pitch late into games so far this year has forced him to make more calls to the pen than he’d have preferred at this point.

In fact, among American League teams, only the Orioles are getting less in the way of innings pitched from their rotation than the Tigers:

ip-g 5-2-16 (starters)

Viewed from back to front instead of front to back also finds Detroit essentially tied with Baltimore for the AL lead in relief innings pitched per game:

ip-g 5-2-16 (relievers)

The beginning of May finds the Tigers with a comfortable 14-10 springtime record. We knew the early part of their schedule would be difficult, so it isn’t surprising that the path to 14-10 was somewhat akin to that of a roller coaster. It also is not unreasonable to expect that better teams would chase starters earlier in games than usual.

Even if the heavy bullpen usage has been justified, or, at least, explainable, it isn’t a trend Detroit should try to continue, for obvious reasons, and if you weren’t certain how to interpret this information, a glance at the bad company the Tigers are keeping at each end of the above graphs should offer undeniable clarification of any lingering doubt.

The team has the opportunity to reverse this course tonight, when their once (and future) workhorse takes the hill in Cleveland and tries to reverse a losing trend of his own.

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Previously
Catching Fire: Who’s Number Two? – 5/2

Related
Statements both obvious and only slightly less obvious about the Detroit Tigers’ finances
Shift the shift: Victor Martinez and counter-strategies
Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?
Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context
Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training
2016 Detroit Tigers Season Preview: They’re Not Dead Yet

Getting to know Jordan Zimmermann in context

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I’m going to continue to link to this baseball-season countdown clock in the introductions to my baseball-related posts this month because it’s an easy way to ease into the subject matter while framing the content that follows as timely, topical, and fresh (regardless of its actual timeliness, topicality, or freshness).

The Detroit Tigers added a number of new players this past offseason in attempts to replace departures from and fix preexisting holes in each portion– offense, starting pitching, relief pitching– of their roster. Having already discussed the offense here, my focus here is on the new addition likely to have the largest effect on the pitching staff: former Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.

As demonstrated last week in his spring training interview on MLB Network, Zimmermann has the personality of a post-Lions Silverdome hotdog, but the Tigers didn’t sign him to a five-year contract so he would challenge Miguel Cabrera in the joke-telling department. All the team is asking Zimmermann to do is replace David Price’s position in the starting rotation, which, sure, Jordan, you can borrow this book of limericks.

Zimmermann is unlikely to be mistaken for Price, but a recent comparison with another Vandy alum, Sonny Gray, can serve as an entry point to the new Tiger’s recent performance. Continue reading

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” feature spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent St. Patrick’s Day with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:   Continue reading