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Free agent steal of the offseason: Jordan Zimmermann? Believe it

Jordan Zimmermann is 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA, making his five-year, $110 million contract look like a bargain thus far.

I’m willing to bet that more than half of the people that had an opinion about the Detroit Tigers signing Jordan Zimmermann this offseason did not look at the investment favorably.

Those skeptics better do a double-take, because Zimmermann is turning out to be a bargain.

The Ilitch family hasn’t hit on all of their big-money signings, and many people feel that the Tigers’ window is closing with some of their stars beginning to age. But Zimmermann, signed to a five-year, $110 million deal last November 30, has been everything the team could have hoped for and more.

With a dominant, seven-inning effort in a 4-1 win today in Minnesota, Zimmermann improved his already-eye-popping numbers to 5-0 with a 0.55 ERA. (Actually, his ERA went up from 0.35.) What’s been even more impressive than Zimmermann assuming the role of ace in the Tigers’ once-vaunted rotation has been the fact that he is doing this despite pitching in the American League for the first time.

Yes, it’s still April for a few more hours, and yes, Comerica Park is a pitcher’s park. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll see that Zimmermann has already beaten some quality opponents and his sabermetric numbers suggest his hot start is no fluke.

Zimmermann’s first five starts — a span in which he has not yielded more than one earned run in any of them — have come against several of the league’s better offenses. He did not permit an earned run in 12 1/3 combined innings in starts at Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and blanked the Yankees over seven innings in the Tigers’ home opener.

And those aforementioned sabermetrics look dazzling.

Including today’s win in Minnesota, Zimmermann is on pace to eclipse his career bests in groundball percentage (50.0) and hard-contact percentage (22.0). Oh yeah, and he hasn’t given up a single home run, either.

To be fair, a drop-off in production last year was almost inevitable for Zimmermann after two absolutely stellar seasons in 2013 and 2014 with the Washington Nationals. Yet even in a “sub par” year following back-to-back All-Star nominations, Zimmermann went 13-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 33 starts and still pitched 201 2/3 innings.

Detroit is a team in desperate need of a reboot in several areas, most of all its bullpen. But with the rotation a shell of what it was just two seasons ago when it boasted three former Cy Young Award winners, Zimmermann might be the perfect reinforcement.

No, he’s not going to post a sub-1.00 ERA all year. But through the season’s first month, $110 million seems like a small price for a 29-year-old All-Star starter at the top of his game.

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