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).

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