Why Jordan Zimmermann to the Detroit Tigers Is a Good Deal

Detroit signed an ace pitcher for a less-than-ace price.

Big-ticket items in baseball don't usually start to leave the store until the Winter Meetings, which are set to take place next week. But the Detroit Tigers and Jordan Zimmermann decided they didn't want to wait, so they set the market for free agent starters this winter.

Over the weekend, Zimmermann signed a five-year, $110 million deal that established the market for the tier of starters just under Zack Greinke and David Price.

Last season, Zimmermann went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 33 starts. His ERA was his highest since 2010, his second year in the Majors when he made seven starts for DC. 

Those seven starts came at the end of the 2010 season after he underwent Tommy John surgery. Following that surgery, Zimmermann posted ERAs of 3.18, 2.94, 3.25 and 2.66 until this season's 3.66. And with his new deal, he becomes the first pitcher to earn a contract of $100 million or more after having Tommy John.

Perhaps that's the reason Zimmermann agreed to a deal before seeing what guys like Greinke and Price would get. Usually, a pitcher in Zimmermann's price range will wait to see what the top of the market gets and then slot himself just underneath.

But perhaps he was wary of that rebuilt shoulder going kablooey! on him or was concerned other teams would fear the same thing, so he struck early.

Greinke and Price probably aren't too thrilled about that.

Zimmermann will be 30 years old next season, so the length of the deal is perhaps more important than the annual dollars. In free agency, the cost of signing a top starting pitcher is going to be north of $20 million at least. That's a given. But in keeping the deal to five years (there are no player/team/vesting options), the Tigers limit their exposure to a decline that usually happens in a pitcher's mid-30s.

In other words, they avoided another Justin Verlander-like catastrophe.

But there is some risk here for Detroit. After a superb 2014 season in which he posted a career-low 2.66 ERA and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting, he took a step back in virtually every pitching category last year.

2014 2.66 199.2 141 8.3 0.6 1.3 8.2 2.68
2015 3.66 201.2 110 9.1 1.1 1.7 7.3 3.75

Zimmermann also lost about a mile per hour on his fastball this year, down from an average just shy of 94 miles per hour from 2012 to 2014 to 93.0 miles per hour last year. 

And while those numbers could be the sign of a drop-off, it could also be that 2014 was just a particularly good season for him. While his 3.66 ERA was his highest since '09, the rest of his numbers were right along his career averages.

2015 3.66 110 9.1 1.1 1.7 7.3 3.75 1.205
Career 3.32 118 8.6 0.9 1.8 7.4 3.40 1.159

See? Not such a bad year when taken in context.

With Detroit, Zimmermann will immediately become the team's ace, with Verlander sliding into the number-two spot, followed by Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris, the young hurler the Tigers got in the Price trade. And, boy, do they need him.

White Sox8.332.651.054.123.823.8717.4
Red Sox7.462.740.974.393.924.0312.1
Blue Jays6.132.491.083.964.284.4311

Even with half a season of an outstanding David Price, the Tigers still finished with the lowest fWAR among American League starters. Their 4.78 ERA was also worst among AL starting pitchers, as was their Fielding Independent Pitching (4.78 FIP), and they struck out the fifth-fewest batters per nine innings in 2015.

So Zimmermann will be a welcome addition as Detroit tries to knock Kansas City off their perch atop the American League Central next season.

Strengthening their rotation by committing to Zimmermann for only five years, as opposed to signing Price, Greinke or Johnny Cueto to a seven- or eight-year deal worth $150-200 million was ideal.

Zimmermann may not be an elite starter anymore, but he can still function as the ace of a good staff, something the Tigers certainly did not have last year but may be developing in 2016.