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:

zimmermann

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

Saving Detroit: Tigers Notes, 8/8/17

detroit tigers notes

While trades– including a trade of Justin Verlander– technically remain a possibility at this point in the year, it looks like the Detroit Tigers will content themselves with playing out the final two months of this season with their current crew and an eye toward the future. For this site, that probably means that the pages of this season’s Tigers diary will be a little emptier than they might be if the team were more aggressive in the trade market or competing for a playoff berth. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t interesting items to track, though. Here are a few:

    • Justin Upton: As highlighted here last week, Upton’s been trimming his bugaboo strikeout rate, but he’s continuing to strike out in bad situations. Since that post, he’s appeared in six games and added four two-out strikeouts to his total, pushing him into a tie for eleventh on the MLB-wide list (minimum 100 two-out plate appearances) in 2017. With 3.6 fWAR, Upton continues to be the team’s best position player by a comfortable margin, as well as its best overall player. In that post last week, I speculated that Upton is unlikely to opt out of his contract this offseason due, in part, to a weak market for corner outfielders with his profile. Over at The Athletic’s new Detroit vertical, Neil Weinberg is more optimistic about Upton’s open-market prospects, calling the “odds that Upton opts out . . . quite high.”
    • Miguel Cabrera: I’ve been working up a full post on Cabrera’s tough season, which has a good chance to be the worst of his career. (For a forward-looking analysis, my career comparison between Cabrera and Albert Pujols is here.) Besides the obvious drop in production, one thing that jumps out is his batting average on balls in play, which, at .296, is below .300 for the first time ever (career .345 BABIP). Last month, Weinberg did the logical thing and dove into Cabrera’s swing profile and batted-ball data tabulated by StatCast. The problem, from our perspective, is that there isn’t a ton there. Cabrera continues to rank high (currently number one, minimum 200 at bats, by a large margin) on the xwOBA-wOBA chart, an indication that he’s making good contact despite poor results. From watching games this season, it seems like Cabrera turns away from inside (but not that inside) pitches more often than in years past, which makes me wonder if he simply isn’t seeing pitches as well. (Weinberg noticed that he’s swinging less often than usual at inside pitches.)
      When observing the decline of a great player, it can be fun to take a break from the dissection to remember his youth, which the remarkable achievements of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper gave us occasion to do today:

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