Ubaldo Jimenez was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2010. Despite pitching in Colorado for the Rockies, Ubaldo ripped off a 19-8 record with a 2.88 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 214 Ks over 221.2 innings. Then his alter ego, Mr. Hyde, showed up. Over his next 96 starts for the Rockies and Indians, covering the 2011-12 seasons, Ubaldo was miserably ineffective. In that time he went 19-30, had an ERA of 5.03, a WHIP of 1.50 an a 1.87 K/BB ratio. You really couldn’t get much worse than that and have a team give you the ball every five games. Things started out just as bad in 2013 as his April was a complete mess (one win, 7.13 EERA, 1.46 K/BB ratio). Entering the All-Star break Ubaldo had a 4.56 ERA, 1.49 WIHP an a 1.77 K/BB ratio over 19 starts. It was over. He was never going to be anything other than an innings eater, and a bad one at that.
Then Ubaldo suddenly remembered that he could be an elite arm. Over his final 13 starts Ubaldo had a 1.82 ERA. He had a 1.14 WHIP. He struck out a whopping 100 batters in 84 innings, and he walked a mere 27 men. What the hell happened and what on earth do we do with him in 2014? Before we get to that, let’s breakdown his second half, quickly.
Compare those efforts to his season best effort from 2010.
2.88 ERA, 8.69 K/9, 2.33 K/BB ratio.
The only time in his career in which Ubaldo had pitched anything like his second half in 2013 was his first half of 2010 when he was the talk of baseball going 15-1. Amazingly, he actually pitched a wee bit better in 2013.
1st half 2010: 2.20 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.00 K/9, 2.46 K/BB
2nd half 2013: 1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.71 K/9, 3.70 K/BB
I know, right?
So how did he do it in 2013? He worked on his mechanics a bit trying to regain his old form. He worked on altering his approach a bit to regain his old form. There’s also more to this puzzle than just finding faith in himself and locking in his mechanics for the first time in four years.
Back in 2010 Ubaldo was throwing his fastball 96 mph. That mark has dipped in each of the past three seasons down to a career worst 91.7 mph in 2013. To combat the lost velocity on his heavy, sinking fastball, he stopped throwing it as much dipping from a 62 percent rate for his career down to 54 percent in 2013. To make up for the lower heater percentage he pumped up his slider rate. After three straight years under 16 percent, Ubaldo threw his slider a career-high 25 percent of the time. He also pretty much junked his changeup throwing it only three percent of the time (the previous five years he had thrown it at least seven percent of the time). He also lowered his change up rate into single digits for the first time since 2008. He simply changed his approach and his K-rate skyrocketed. Despite tons of heat and ample strikeout marks in his past (seasons of 172, 198, 214 and 180 from 2008-11), he had never been a strikeout-per-inning arm until 2013 as he finished the year at 9.56 per nine.
Did that also translate into an improvement in his walk rate? Certainly did in the second half of the season, but overall, not really. He cut his walk rate a bit in 2013 as his mark was a tenth below his career rate. Granted his season long mark, even with his tremendous second half, was 3.94 per nine. That’s not a good number, and in fact it’s actually the second worst number of the past five years for Jimenez.
What type of batted balls did his new-found approach lead to? His line drive mark was 19.8 percent in 2013. His career mark is 19.1 percent. No change there (his BABIP was .304 versus his career mark of .292). His GB/FB rate was 1.21. That’s two tenth below his career mark and the 4th straight season he has failed to match that career level of 1.43. Searching out his HR/9 mark we see more of the same. His 0.79 mark in 2013 was only slightly above the 0.73 mark he owns for his career. His new approach didn’t help here either.
When looking at his swing rates there really was no change there either.
He induced swings on pitches outside the strike zone at a 0.5 percent higher rate than normal.
The total percentage of his offerings that batters swing at was 0.6 below his career norm.
His contact rate when batters did put the ball in play was 0.5 below his career norm.
Like I said, not much really changed.
Looking at the totality of his 32 starts in 2013 we have to admit – not much really changed, other than his increased strikeout rate, versus his career norms. I know the ERA was down at 3.30 for the season and that was sixth tenths below his career mark. According to SIERA and xFIP, his ERA should have only been three tenths down. His 1.33 WHIP was only two hundredths better than his 1.35 career mark. I broke down his walk rates, his homer rates, his GB/FB rates etc. Looking at 32 starts it was – standard Ubaldo.
Ask yourself this. If Ubaldo had a 4.56 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in the second half, if we reverse his first/second halves, would you have any interest in Ubaldo? We both know the answer would be no. The perception is that Ubaldo “figured it out” in the second half. Maybe he did. I’m not convinced though.
So what do we do with Ubaldo? If you’re drafting him as your SP1 that’s a mistake. If you draft him as your SP2 that’s a mistake. He does enter the discussion when we start talking SP3′s, he throws lots of innings and does strike guys out, but I’m not taking him as my SP3 and feeling comfortable with that choice. Over the last four seasons Ubaldo has had two good halves (the first in 2010 and the second in 2013). The other six halves of those four years he’s been, at best, average. The totality of the information should make you very nervous if you’re counting on Ubaldo to match his ERA or K/9 rate from 2013, and if those two numbers regress he goes back to being an innings eater with no appreciable upside.
By Ray Flowers