The Detroit Tigers announced today that they have signed starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann, one of the biggest names on the free-agent market, to a five-year, $110 million deal. This was a great deal for the Tigers, who needed to shore up their rotation after losing Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello the last few seasons leading to their starting rotation becoming one of the worst in baseball last season.
First off, let’s cover the why Zimmermann is a good fit for the Tigers. The Tigers picked Zimmermann for many reasons. The right-hander came at a fair value for a borderline ace arm. J.A. Happ just signed for $12 million per season, so the $22 million annual value for Zimmermann is a really fair deal. Signing Zimmermann will help the rotation a lot more than re-signing Alfredo Simon or bringing in Chris Young, for example.
Overall, the Tigers were better off signing a really good starter over two mid-tier starters. A rotation with Justin Verlander and Zimmermann at the top and guys like Daniel Norris and Michael Fulmer coming up in the next few years could help the Tigers capitalize on the final peak years of Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler as well as the continued ascension of J.D. Martinez. Zimmermann makes a lot of sense because the Tigers needed help right now while they wait for the prospects added in the David Price and Yoenis Cespedes trades to mature. The deep free-agent starter market helped the Tigers get Zimmermann at a fair price.
Now let’s look into what the Tigers should expect from Zimmermann over the next five years. Zimmermann’s biggest flaw was his decreasing velocity — his average fastball lost about one mile per hour last year, and the number of pitches he threw over 95 MPH and 94 MPH decreased dramatically, per ESPN Stats and Info. The thing about Zimmermann, though, is that he gives up grounders at a tick below league average and fly balls a tick above, which is a good combination in spacious Comerica Park. Zimmermann is only 29 so the velocity dip could be a temporary thing, but even if it isn’t he still manages to get 160 strikeouts and his style is a perfect fit in Detroit. He also is just a year removed from a sub-3 FIP, so Tigers fans have a lot to be excited about with Zimmermann. He’s exactly the piece that they needed to come in and be a big arm, and I think they’ll get at least three or four really good years out of him.
The one thing Zimmermann needs to worry about is his fastball, though. I mentioned that its velocity dropped, but when he used it, it was also worth a negative run value, where in most years it was above average like the rest of his pitches. There’s a bit of concern with Zimmermann’s fastball, but it’s important to remember the amount of talent that Zimmermann has and also how good of a fit he is in Detroit. Zimmermann’s down year was a year that most pitchers would love to have and there’s not a ton to suggest that Zimmermann is headed downhill. The Tigers couldn’t just go out and get Price or Zack Greinke, so they got the best pitcher that they could. I think this signing will be beneficial to both sides and that the Tigers will get some great games out of Zimmermann, especially in the year ahead.
Now the Tigers 2016 rotation looks like it will be Verlander, Zimmermann, Norris, Sanchez, and a to-be-determined fifth starter. If that fifth guy is Fulmer, I will really like the Tigers rotation. Zimmermann is a big reason why, because he will be that much better in the rotation than a guy like Simon or Shane Greene in 2016 for the Tigers, and he’s a veteran to keep at the top of the rotation for years to come.
One last reason for the Tigers to love Zimmermann is that he was lights out in 2014. Sure that was a year ago now, but we went over how 2015 wasn’t even a real “down” season; if Zimmermann improves in 2016, which I think he should even if it’s only slightly, he’s dangerously good. In 2014 he threw a no-hitter and was dominant in many starts, and that’s not unrealistic to expect in Detroit too, even if it’s not as often.