Does Jordan Zimmermann Have Anything Left in the Tank?
Aside from signing of Kolten Wong and their rumored interest in Justin Turner, it’s been an extremely quiet offseason for the Brewers. The moves that David Stearns and Matt Arnold have made have mostly been depth moves like Luke Maile and Daniel Robertson. That trend continued on Tuesday, as the Brewers announced that veteran right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will be joining them in camp after signing a minor-league contract.
Zimmermann, 34, is coming off an extremely disappointing five-year run in Detroit. He began his career with the Nationals and emerged as a model of consistency in D.C., throwing 1,094 innings with a 3.32 ERA and 3.40 FIP while making 32 or more starts in each of his last four seasons there. Things immediately went downhill in the Motor City, not only from a performance standpoint but from a health one as well. Zimmermann made just 97 starts over five seasons plus two appearances out of the bullpen. He was a shell of his former self when he did take the mound, posting a 5.63 ERA and 4.83 FIP. He never surpassed 160 innings nor reached 30 starts in single a season with the Tigers.
Zimmermann is far removed from his days as a solid #2 or #3 starter, but is there anything for the Brewers to work with that can turn him into a useful swingman or back-of-the-rotation option?
As horrific as his stint with the Tigers was, Zimmermann continued to limit free passes extremely well. His walk rate was just 5.5%.
End of list.
/Gestures to everything about Jordan Zimmermann that is not his walk rate/
Take a look and see if there’s anything to be optimistic about with these trends aside from Zimmermann’s walk rate (hint: there isn’t).
The veteran’s velocity and spin rate have been steadily declining, he has consistently struggled to get swings and misses, and his quality of contact metrics range from poor to awful. With the exception of the 5 2/3 innings he tossed in 2020, Zimmermann never posted a FIP below 4.42, a DRA below 4.52, nor a SIERA below 4.20 with the Tigers.
For Zimmermann to provide any sort of value, a number of changes need to take place. Most importantly, he needs to stay healthy. With the Tigers, he hit the disabled list a total of six times with the following ailments:
- right neck strain
- right lat tightness
- right shoulder impingement
- right elbow UCL sprain
- right cervical spasm
- right forearm strain
Zimmermann, for what it’s worth, said that he feels healthier now than he has in years.
Barring a sudden (and highly unlikely) surge in velocity, Zimmermann will have to significantly overhaul his arsenal and approach. He already began throwing more sliders, curveballs, and sinkers in Detroit to account for his declining velocity, but that failed to make much of a difference when none of those pitches were particularly effective.
In all likelihood, the Brewers will send Zimmermann to their pitching lab in Arizona, where coaches will use tech and any other resources they may have to help him improve spin and movement on each of his pitches. Perhaps they’ll help him design a new pitch — maybe a cutter or a rebuilt sinker that will help induce weak contact. It was just a couple of years ago that the Brewers brought Wade Miley’s career back from the dead by helping him grow comfortable with a new cutter that excelled at missing barrels. They undoubtedly have some sort of plan for Zimmermann. The question is if it will work.
Since Zimmermann will be in camp on a minor-league deal, he comes with no risk. There is very little evidence that the Brewers can extract value from the current iteration of the Wisconsin native. Instead, they’ll have to keep him healthy and work with him to build a new Jordan Zimmermann, one with a better arsenal that can find some level of success without his peak velocity.