The Decline of Ubaldo Jimenez

Coming off a six-win season in 2010, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez disappointed on the mound last year, splitting time between the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians. His velocity dropped significantly. The dominating stuff that made him a Cy Young candidate seemingly disappeared. He became rather ordinary and frustrating for two separate fan bases. It all resulted in a below-average 4.68 ERA.

Hope for improvement existed for 2012, however. His 3.67 FIP suggested Jimenez pitched much better than his earned run average indicated — largely due to the fact that his BABIP and LOB% were both worse than his career averages — and his 88 FIP- indicated that he ranked better than league average on the mound.

Fast forward to 2012, and we clearly see that the potential improvement for Ubaldo Jimenez simply has not come to fruition. In fact, the 28-year-old continues to deteriorate on the mound. His stuff is declining precipitously, and his peripheral numbers are trending in the wrong direction.

Look at his fastball velocity over the past five seasons:

Year Velocity (MPH)
2008 94.9
2009 96.1
2010 96.1
2011 93.5
2012 92.0

The decline in velocity has become dramatic over the past two years. Some have suggested that the early season velocity for Jimenez cannot be considered a true representation of his abilities, as the cold weather in Cleveland depresses velocity. In short, the velocity should pick up in the summer months. The problem with that assumption, however, is that three of the five Indians starters — Derek Lowe, Josh Tomlin, and Jeanmar Gomez — have either gained fastball velocity from last year or are within two tenths of a MPH from their 2011 numbers. Only Justin Masterson has significantly lower velocity numbers on his fastball. If the cold weather in Cleveland was truly depressing velocity, one would expect to see the entire starting rotation (or even just the majority) below their 2011 average. That is clearly not the case.

Ubaldo Jimenez is simply not throwing the baseball with as much velocity as he once did, which will naturally diminish effectiveness unless a different approach is taken on the mound.

Velocity is not the only aspect red flag for Jimenez, however. The ability to generate swinging strikes from opposing hitters has severely declined once again in 2012. Again, let’s look at his swinging strike rates from the past five seasons:

Year SwStr%
2008 8.9
2009 9.6
2010 9.1
2011 7.5
2012 4.9

It should not be surprising that Jimenez has seen his strikeout rate drop to a career-low 4.40 K/9 (not including his 2006 season, in which he only threw 7.2 innings) and his O-Swing% is only 21.5%. He is simply not fooling hitters with his diminished stuff, and since he has never featured average command of the strike zone, fewer swinging strikes and fewer swings at pitches out of the zone has naturally led to a spike in his walk rate. It has jumped to a career-high 6.28 BB/9.

Quite succinctly, Ubaldo Jimenez is a mess. His fastball velocity continues to plummet, his swinging strike rate has followed suit, and opposing hitters are forcing him to throw strikes by not swinging at as many pitches out of the strike zone. That has resulted in a 6.32 FIP through the month of April.

Unless something fundamentally changes with his approach on the mound or his stuff miraculously returns, Ubaldo Jimenez will continue to struggle this season. The Cleveland Indians traded away four prospects — including top pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Alex White — in order to acquire a top-of-the-rotation arm. Instead, the Indians received nothing but a depreciating asset and a liability in their starting rotation.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

55 Responses to “The Decline of Ubaldo Jimenez”

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  1. GoHabsGo says:

    Help me understand: I heard numerous reports that Ubaldo’s velo had spiked in spring training significantly, however the 2012 regular season has been the complete opposite. Additionally, since he’s only made 5 starts (3 @ CLE), how do we truly know what the game-time readings were (i.e. temperature, pressure, wind factor). Perhaps his fellow staffmates didn’t deal with such harsh condittions within their small sample space.

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    • Ayuh says:

      This sounds like Liriano’s deal. He looked great in spring training, but he’s been a complete mess in the regular season. Go figure.

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    • Wobatus says:

      It spiked early in spring training but diminished as spring training went along, and overall he did not have a good spring.

      He looked quite good the first several innings of his opening start against Toronto. He had a no-hitter through 6 then started losing control a bit. Even in that game he wasn’t strinking guys out, but overall he started strong in that game. It’s been downhill since.

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  2. BDF says:

    I have no idea what the deal with Jimenez is, but this analysis doesn’t hold water. You list three problems, but the other two could well be rectified by an increase in velocity. You suggest that Jimenez’ velocity won’t increase because his staffmates’ has already increased and his would have too if it were going to … or something. But there’s no reason in the world to believe that all pitchers respond to weather changes or just the normal unloosening of the season in the same way, ergo the conclusion that Jimenez is done is not justified by the argument.

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    • Dan says:

      does Ubaldo have a history of dramatically increasing his fastball velocity over the course of a season? Not really.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/fgraphs/3374_P_FA_20120501.png

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    • Richie says:

      Why is there no reason to believe that if a phenomenon is not present in A, B or C but is present in D, then there’s something different about D? It’s on you to show that D/Jimenez is the outlier, not the author.

      I presume you’ll soon be engaging in epistemological gobbledygook. But recalcitrance doesn’t become anything more than itself just because you surround/disguise it with other big words.

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      • BDF says:

        A, B, and C being one way is not a large enough sample size to label Jimenez an outlier. If the author had shown that, historically, a large sample of pitcher in climates similar to Cleveland’s don’t improve their velocity as the season warms up, that might be compelling. But three pitchers going one way isn’t enough to argue that Jimenez won’t go another.

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      • Domenic says:

        I have to side with BDF here, though I do think a key component of the analysis is being overlooked – Masterson’s fastball velocity has slipped between 2.5 MPH and 3.0 MPH as compared to the last couple of seasons. I don’t think three out of five, particularly in such a small sample size, can suggest much of anything … it’s almost confirmation bias, in my mind.

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      • Synovia says:

        Because theres also an E that looks the same.

        A sample of 3 one way, 2 the other is, from a statistical standpoint, meaningless.

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    • James says:

      You are misinterpreting the article… or something… Clearly, the velocity discussion is intended to debunk the assumptions of certain optimists. Your comment just convolutes and distorts it.

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      • BDF says:

        I understand what the author is trying to do. See my comment above re a historical, large-sample analysis of pitchers in Cleveland-like climates. That would be meaningful, but comparing Jimenez to three other pitchers is not meaningful.

        I’m not a Jimenez apologist or optimist. I have no dog in the fight. I just think the author’s refutation of the optimists, which rests entirely on comparing Jimenez to this staffmates, is completely fallacious.

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  3. Matt W says:

    Has anybody noticed any differences in his slider? Watching him in ’10 it wasn’t just the fastball that jumped out at me but he paired it with a nasty slider that seemed to tie up hitters. I barely saw it last season, and have yet to watch a start this season.

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  4. Nick says:

    Can someone tell me what these stand for on the velocity charts?

    FA – Fastball
    FT – 2 seam fastball?
    SL – Slider
    CH – Change
    CU – Curve
    FS -?
    IN – ?
    SI -?

    My thanks in advance

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  5. Beard says:

    Excellent article. Can you please tell me what site I can find pitchers statistics that include average velocity and swinging strike percentages that your referenced in this article?

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  6. kevin says:

    His velocity has no chance of coming back until he fixes his mechanics. Worst mechanics in baseball. His left side flies so far open he can’t have either velocity or control.

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  7. Gabriel says:

    It seems like a totally feasible project to look at fastball velocities month by month in different cities. In other words, rather than looking at one team’s fastball velocities in April, 2012, we could be looking at all pitchers for the years we have data available and base it on where the starts were made (thus including visitors to Cleveland in the Cleveland stats and not including the starts made by Indians on the road in the Cleveland stats, and so on for all ballparks). Then, we could explore whether temperature or other factors actually seem to impact velocity. An alternative would be to compare fastball velocities by weather data available for the start.

    As it stands, all we have is an extremely small sample in this article. I’d love to see Fangraphs look into this, if somebody else hasn’t already done so elsewhere.

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  8. isavage30 says:

    He is not throwing his slider nearly as much, and is throwing a changeup a lot more. Could be throwing sliders and throwing fastballs harder hurts his arm. His numbers certainly look like there’s something seriously wrong with him

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    • Wobatus says:

      I’ve wondered about this. Why would throwing change-ups hurt less than throwing fastballs? Because the ball’s velocity is slower? But your delivery and arm action is supposed to look the same. A good change-up should have at least the same force on your arm as the fastball, and perhaps more I’d think due to the grip change..

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      • Grant says:

        It’s more a result of the arm action itself. Pronation in general puts less stress on the UCL (tommy John) side of your arm. Slider is the worst because it’s a supination pitch putting tons of stress on the elbow. Change up (assuming a circle or similar type change up) is a pronation type pitch, and not only is it pronation, it’s also not as violent of a pitch and more of a subtle arm action thus the subtle effectiveness of a change up rather than the sharp bite of a slider. Most pitchers naturally pronate slightly on fastballs as well but even if you have a great arm action on your change up the fast ball will always be thrown with a faster arm speed and more violently.

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      • magdalencollege says:

        Grant,

        I doubt forearm pronation plays much of a factor, if any at all. The studies headed by Dr. James Andrews and his colleagues at ASMI showed that forearm supination is almost identical between a fastball and a changeup. In fact, changeups involve slightly more forearm supination than fastballs. But the most pronounced kinematic difference between a fastball and a change is shoulder internal rotation velocity (arm speed). The studies confirmed intuition: pitchers throw change ups with much less arm speed than any other pitch, and thus the stress on the elbow and shoulder joints are mitigated when throwing a change.

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      • isavage30 says:

        He’s still throwing about the same number of fastballs, they’re just slower. The increase in changeups seems to be come from a decrease in sliders, if the classification are accurate. So I was more thinking the arm action of the slider, and he’s just not throwing as hard for everything, with both the changeup and fastball velocity dropping 3-4%. Of course it’s pure speculation; he hasn’t said he’s hurt. Maybe its all mechanics, and his slider just isn’t working as well, so he’s stopped using it as much. Whatever the cause, the symptoms of his struggles seem to be decreased velocity, and using his slider less and changeup more.

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      • Wobatus says:

        Magdalencollge, that’s interesting that they throw changeups with much less arm speed. That makes sense since the velocity is supposed to change, but I thought the point was to make the arm speed look the same as the fastball, just that the grip is different so the actual velocity is less (or does the grip just give it different movement, like a “tumbling” change). I wonder if really good change up pitchers like a Johan santana do keep the arm speed closer to the fastball arm speed.

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  9. mcbrown says:

    The velocity decline doesn’t worry me so much – plenty of pitchers do well with a sub-92 fastball, and he seems to have slowed down his changeup right in line with his fastball. Breathless panic over fastball velocity seems to be the early season analytical meme of 2012 (see Linceum, Wainwright, Halladay, etc.).

    No, what really worries me, and what I’m incredibly surprised this article missed, is that so far this season he has suddenly become a flyball pitcher… 0.97 GB/FB ratio in 2012, vs. 1.56 for his career! His above-average-to-elite groundball tendency was what allowed him to thrive in Coors, and was (we though) a major attraction for Cleveland (remember the preseason discussion of their groundball-heavy rotation experiment?). That is a sign of a big problem to me.

    We know velocity declines over time; we shouldn’t really be surprised when it happens to a particular pitcher. GB/FB tendencies seem to be more stable, so we should be surprised when we see a big change in them.

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    • Richie says:

      My understanding is that lower velocity results in more flyballs. Not in relation of ‘Pitcher A’ to ‘Pitcher B’, but within the individual pitcher. That when even a groundball pitcher starts losing velocity, he starts giving up more fly balls.

      Just how strong or comprehensive the research behind that, I don’t know.

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  10. Dan says:

    So are you saying he’s hurt? Shoulder? Elbow? Legs? Dead arm? Whats the takeaway from this?

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    • Richie says:

      The takeaway is his horrible velocity has caused his horrible pitching, and injury is often a cause in such circumstances.

      If the author next started wildly speculating as to what specific injury may be causing it, that’d be silly. How would he have any real idea?

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  11. aaronjw says:

    As an Indians fan,I have watched all of his starts this season. He looks awful. His mechanics are truly a mess. His release point is inconsistent and his left side does indeed fly open. In the rare instance when gets everything aligned, he has displayed much better control. At this point, he walks way too many batters to be effective.

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  12. clevelander says:

    I think Ubaldo too often nibbles when he has a chance for a strikeout. Two starts ago vs the Royals he started the first 15 hitters he faced (possibly more) with a first pitch strike, and proceeded to nibble. Maybe he lacks confidence in the fastball (with reduced velo), maybe he lacks confidence in his defense (a Royals hitter pulled a ground ball between Cabrera and Kipnis who were 15 feet from one another in the shift)?

    From time to time the stuff is still very nasty, he just needs to change his approach to allow hitters to get themselves out in my very un-expert opinion. For now they are happy to just wait to be walked or for a grooved fastball when he eventually falls behind.

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    • Wobatus says:

      Yes, in that Royals game he had 2 strikes on Chris Getz (who ate him alive in that game, of all people), and he proceeded to throw him 4 straight offspeed pitches (mlb mobile said 3 were change-ups), and Getz wound up with a hit. And at the time he was throwing 94 or so (his velocity has semed to be dropping as games and the season go on). Even if your fastball is diminished, 94 is plenty and why throw Getz multilple change-ups in a row? He had tripled off him earlier so maybe Ubaldo was being cautious, but it just didn’t seem like a smart sequence.

      It’s a number of things. Diminshed velocity, mechanics, nibbling, etc. he used to be able to get away with over 3.5 walks a agame with his K rate and groundballs. Now he can’t. He might be able to acclimate to pitching with slightly lower velicity but it requires re-thinking how he pitches and improving in other areas. And of course it could be that he’s injured. Have to go read the aging curve for pitchers articles and see how normal this kind of velocity decline is at his age.

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      • Cidron says:

        diminished in game velo may be showing up to camp out of shape. not sure if he did or didnt. but, its a possible.

        also, to the poster above, regarding his faith in his pitches, i can agree with that. if he doesnt have faith, he wont throw a blazing fastball down the middle.. if he doesnt have faith in his defense, he will try to miss bats. if you got no faith in your pitches AND your defense, you are gonna be messed up, trying to figure out how to pitch at all.

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  13. John says:

    His mechanics are godawful. It’s amazing he had the success he did.

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  14. mbrady16 says:

    Look at his release point game charts. His release point is all over the place compared to 2010. He badly needs a pitching coach to help him either get back to where he was or change his mechanics.

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  15. JDanger says:

    Every time you guys say “his mechanics are awful” I just picture a bunch of boorish, dumb-looking people working on Ubaldo’s car.

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  16. omallm7 says:

    Ubaldo’s throwing his changeup more than twice as often as his career average. While it’s not an historically bad pitch, it also used to have 12 mph of separation from his FB. In 2012, it has approx 7 mph separation. It isn’t fooling anyone, and by regularly falling behind in counts, he’s throwing it when it’s the least effective. Either something is physically wrong with him or Cleveland needs a new pitching coach. Probably both.

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  17. Wobatus says:

    This also has me thinking about xfip. His decline last year shows up much more in his e.r.a. than his xfip, which was generally comparable to prior years. But almost all observers said he was worse. The k rate and walk rate per 9 were similar but the swiniging strike rate was down. Babip was up I believe. But k % of total batters was down. As was velocity. So I think in this case xfip didn’t capture his decline as fully as the other signs and even e.r.a. Which may simply be coincidence, that he had bad luck and thus a high e.r.a. at the same time as his velocity was down, but the swinging strike decline is more telling, more so than the k/9 rates. And maybe the “bad luck” is telling us something. Maybe it wasn’t bad luck.

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    • Wobatus says:

      Even in the non-Cy Young years he was a mid 3.00s xfip pitcher. He was good. Now he’s closer to 6 xfip.

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  18. elooie says:

    I don’t know what the big deal with Ubaldo is. He had like half a season where he was CY Young worthy.. while also being effectively wild and threw 97 MPH. The rest of the time he was just wild and now he isn’t throwing as hard. Just my opinion.

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  19. Brian S. says:

    The Indians have been Pineda’d

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  20. Cidron says:

    Guessing that Pitching Coach Scott Radinsky has his work cut out for him. Fix the mechanics, get him confident, etc etc..

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  21. pft says:

    Teams (like the Yankees) that ignore a drop off in velocity along with performance decline and pay top dollar in a trade deserve what they get.

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  22. gillibuster says:

    Ubaldo’s delivery is terrible. The logical conclusion is that the decline in FBV, decline in results, paired with the fact that the Rockies were dying to unload him……he’s probably not healthy.

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  23. dan says:

    Jiminez looks the same as last year, it’s just more pronounced, and I think his “reputation” has worn off. Hitters just aren’t biting anymore, and are watching out of the zone pitches go by. It’s what happens when hitters lose respect for your stuff and accuracy, and that goes a long way towards killing your swinging strike %. Not a good sign.

    More interesting/concerning to me, as a Tribe fan, is what’s up with Masterson?

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