The Detroit Tigers inked free agent starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year, $110 million contract. Many thought the 29 year old would earn a couple more years and quite a few more dollars, but this deal looks reasonable for both sides and greatly helps a Detroit team that finished in the basement of the American League Central capitalize on a short-term window.
Last season, the Tigers finished dead last in the AL in pitcher fWAR, in large part because they divvied innings out to replacement-level starting pitchers such as Shane Greene (16 starts, 81.2 innings, 0.1 fWAR), Kyle Lobstein (11 starts, 59 innings, 0.4 fWAR), and Matt Boyd (10 starts, 50 innings and -0.3 fWAR). When Alfredo Simon leads a team in innings, it generally is not good news.
Zimmermann is a solid arm who represents the durability the Tigers rotation lacked in 2015. While Justin Verlander seemingly turned a corner after the All Star game (he posted a 2.81 FIP and 3.79 xFIP in the second half compared to a 5.80 FIP and 5.37 xFIP in the first half), he still threw only 133 innings. Zim's been a stalwart rotational piece for the Nats since 2012, with the fewest innings he's thrown in four years sitting at a respectable 195.2.
A five-year contract is reasonable for a Tigers team that took a step backward in 2015 but cannot afford to waste any more time. This a team that with some additions, can contend for at least a wild card slot in 2016 and slightly more. David Price and Zack Greinke required more years, so a "second-tier" starter on a shorter deal is more palatable. Looking six or seven years down the line, having a $30 million pitcher probably makes little sense.
In March, I wrote about how now is the time for the Tigers to win; this move doubles down on this timeline. Dave Dombrowski's patented ‘stars & scrubs' approach has a shelf-life, but the Tigers can still capitalize on the window DD created. The prime years of Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, JV, and Anibal Sanchez might be behind them, but they remain valuable players; additional value from a free agent pitcher who can give them a couple good years is a good plan, regardless of whether or not the back-end goes sour.
Not including Zimmermann, Detroit has $90 million locked into the four aforementioned players, and the Tigers have all of them signed through 2017 (and all but Anibal through 2018). They remain among baseball's biggest spenders (top five), so the opportunity cost of acquiring Zimmermann does not prohibit them from signing other free agents, which they've already done. Additionally, the cost is lower for the Tigers than many other teams because their first round draft pick is protected.
The biggest critique about Zimmermann is the drop in fastball velocity, but not only has the velo not dropped significantly, but Zim also demonstrated he can survive despite the dip in whiffs. His isolated power against in 2015 matched that in 2012 despite generating fewer swings and misses last year ---- he's learned to live on the secondary stuff.
Fastball Data (from Brooks Baseball)
|Year||Percentage Used||Velocity||Whiff Percentage||ISO Against|
In 2014, Zimmermann relied on his fastball more than in any other year ----- over 70 percent of the time. This is the outlier, though, not 2015. From a fastball usage perspective, he simply reverted back to what he did from 2011 to 2013. Additionally, the overall hard-hit percentage in 2015 was slightly lower than it was in 2014 (29.2 percent to 29.8).
Zimmerman is a good signing for the Tigers because their time to compete is now. Detroit has the resources and appetite to spend and needs a good pitcher who can eat innings. Adding Zim limits the innings for fringy starters, and the front end of the contract is really the most important for Detroit. While 12 to 15 Wins makes the contract a good value for the team, if the back-end is lousy, it will not matter if the Tigers make the playoffs the next couple years. For a team with a short-term view, and an owner who wants to raise a World Series trophy while he's still capable, this move makes a lot of sense.