The Detroit Tigers‘ response to a last-place finish in the AL Central last year was to cast a wide net in the offseason. A few trades and $270 million in free-agent contracts later, it brought back many new toys.

And now, the Tigers can breathe easy knowing at least one of them is panning out even better than they could have hoped.

Signing Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year, $110 million contract was one of Detroit’s first big offseason moves, and it looks like easily their best in the early going of 2016. For his latest act, the veteran right-hander fired six-and-a-third scoreless frames in a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday.

So it goes for Zimmermann. He debuted with seven scoreless innings against the New York Yankees and followed that up with six scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

That makes 19.1 scoreless innings for the former Washington National. If you’re guessing there’s some kind of tidbit in play here, congratulations! Here’s MLB Stat of the Day with your prize:

It’s up to you to care about this, citizen—because Zimmermann sure doesn’t.

“It’s just a number,” the 29-year-old said of his scoreless streak, via Jeffrey Flanagan and Jason Beck of “I just try to go out there and put up zeros and keep the game close. I try to go with a bend-but-don’t-break mentality, and I’ve been able to do that the last few games.”

Zimmermann can play coy all he wants, but the truth is, his 0.00 ERA has been a godsend to the Tigers. It stands in stark contrast to what they’re getting out of $132.75 million left fielder Justin Upton—hitting just .241 with a .624 OPS through 13 gamesand it’s also buoyed a starting rotation that’s otherwise been less than ferocious.

Zimmermann, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez looked like a potentially elite trio on paper, but the latter two have combined for a 5.91 ERA in six starts. Overall, the 4.67 ERA the Tigers are getting out of their starters through the first couple of weeks in 2016 rises to 5.60 if Zimmermann and his 0.00 ERA are stricken from the record.

Obviously, Zimmermann won’t sustain a 0.00 ERA forever. But whatever he’s doing, it’s definitely working.

Coming into 2016, I pegged Zimmermann as one of the offseason’s likeliest busts. Though he was coming to Detroit off a five-year stretch highlighted by a 3.14 ERA, a no-hitter and two top-10 finishes in the National League Cy Young voting, his most recent season was littered with red flags.

Among those was a decline in Zimmermann’s fastball velocity, which contributed to a decrease in strikeouts and an increase in home runs. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs saw that last part as being especially concerning, writing, “Without home run suppression, Zimmermann is merely an above-average starter.”

Though Zimmermann ended up with good results, he didn’t silence such fears his first two times out. After dipping to about 93 miles per hour last season, his average fastball velocity dipped to 92 miles per hour. That played a part in striking out only seven batters in 13 innings. And in walking five batters, Zimmermann also lost his typically excellent control.

However, the twist is that Zimmermann didn’t pitch 13 scoreless innings entirely by accident. Hitters just plain couldn’t square him up, as Baseball Savant put the average exit velocity off him at 84.13 miles per hour. Entering Wednesday, that ranked seventh-best among qualified pitchers.

That’s a notable improvement over the 87.9 miles per hour Zimmermann averaged with his exit velocity last year. A search for answers points in the direction of Zimmermann’s slider, which he used for over 30 percent of his pitches. That’s much more often than he’s used to, and the pitch itself has been sharp enough to warrant the extra usage.

According to Brooks Baseball, that trend continued with 41 more sliders out of Zimmermann’s 105 total pitches against the Royals. He also continued to collect soft contact. Per, his overall exit velocity is now down to 83.18 miles per hour.

And there’s even more good news. According to Brooks Baseball, Zimmermann’s average fastball velocity spiked to 93.5 miles per hour Wednesday. That helps explain his eight strikeouts. And in throwing 75 of his 105 pitches for strikes, he walked only one.

Though he may not care about his scoreless streak, even Zimmermann had to admit he was bringing it against the Royals.

“I was a little better tonight,” he said, via Katie Strang of “My stuff was real good tonight. I was in a few jams, was able to get lucky and got out of them. But I had pretty good stuff tonight. It was fun to be out there.”

It’s hard to say what this all adds up to for the time being. Three starts is an awfully small sample size, and Zimmermann hasn’t been the same pitcher in all three of them.

But Zimmermann’s 0.00 ERA obviously looks good, and it’s just as important that he’s not skating wholly on good luck. He’s been incredibly tough for hitters to square up, and now he may have his usual velocity and command working again.

Early though it is, so far it’s all added up to a darn good return on investment for the Tigers. If he can keep it up, it’ll stay that way.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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