Jordan Zimmermann is probably the Tigers’ most obvious bounce back candidate. He was signed last offseason to a five-year, $100 million contract to be a top-of-the-rotation starter for a potential playoff team.
He started 2016 well enough with quality starts in each of his first seven starts (taking a 1.50 ERA into the middle of May), but his effectiveness soon waned and ended up missing much of the second half of the season due to injury. From May 16 onward he posted a 7.69 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts)
Zimmermann struck out 20% of the batters he faced in parts of seven seasons with the Washington Nationals but fanned just 14.7% of opposing hitters in his first year with the Tigers. According to Brooks Baseball’s pitch f/x data, Zimmermann induced the lowest whiff rate of any of his full seasons when throwing his fastball (which was down a mile per hour) and the second worst whiff rate of his career on his slider and curveball.
It’s unlikely that Zimmermann, who will turn 31 this year, will regain much of his previous velocity. He’s going to have to rely on his excellent control to limit walks and keep batted balls in the yard (his 1.2 home runs per nine innings rate last year was also the worst of his career) while finding ways to sneak every last strikeout out of his arsenal.
With Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris hopefully on the rise, the Tigers won’t need Zimmermann to pitch like a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, but he will need to provide them solid mid-rotation value if they’re going to make a playoff push in 2017.