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The End of Lima Time?

This past Tuesday former all-star pitcher Jose Lima was released by the Kia Tigers of the Korean League following a few starts reminiscent of his 2005 and 2006 major league seasons. Lima, always known more for his personality than his on-field performance, suggested this would signal the end of his baseball career. The idea of a baseball world without Jose Lima, as evident in the video below, almost brought Jim Rome to tears—at least relative to what tears for Jim Rome equates to.

Being a fan of Lima’s while growing up I decided to take a look at his career, which got off to a rocky start with the Tigers in 1994. From 1994-96 he pitched in 153 innings, giving up 183 hits and 25 home runs. He had an ERA of 6.24 in that span and a WHIP of 1.48. He joined the Astros in 1997 in a blockbuster trade (Lima, Brad Ausmus, CJ Nitkowski, Trever Miller, and Daryle Ward for Doug Brocail, Brian Hunter, Todd Jones, and Orlando Miller) and, on the surface, had a below average year out of the bullpen. In 75 innings of work he gave up 44 runs; however, based on his FIP of 3.92 this was a pretty solid year. With a very impressive K:BB of 3.94 and just nine home runs allowed, Lima pitched himself into the Astros rotation the following year.

Making 33 starts in 1998 Lima went for 233.1 innings and a 16-8 record. He cut down on his hits per inning and allowed under one walk per game en route to a 1.12 WHIP and 5.28 K:BB. His 3.70 ERA translated to a 4.15 FIP—still very respectable. The major blemish on his season came in the form of home runs: He allowed 34 in what would begin a four-year span accompanied by a total of 147 surrendered dingers.

1999 proved to be his best season as he made the all-star team and garnered serious Cy Young Award consideration. In 35 starts and a career high 246.1 innings, Lima went 21-10 with a 3.58 ERA, 3.83 FIP, even cutting his home run count down; in two more starts he allowed four less home runs. His K:BB, however, dropped by over a full point, dipping from 5.28 to 4.25. Though 4.25 is still a darned good ratio it would soon prove to be the beginning of the end to Lima’s previously solid control rates. He went from one of the top seasons in 1999 to, without a doubt, one of the worst in 2000.

In 33 starts he surrendered a ridiculous 48 home runs, just two off Bert Blyleven’s record of 50. His K:BB plummeted from 4.25 to 1.82 as his WHIP ballooned to 1.62. He went from an ERA and FIP of 3.58 and 3.83 to 6.65 and 6.18. 2001 became all too similar as his numbers slightly improved but still fell into the category of very poor. Luckily, the Astros found a taker prior to the end of the season and shipped him back to Detroit in exchange for Dave Mlicki.

2002 brought with it some controversy as a frustrated Lima blamed manager Luis Pujols for some of his struggles. After not being used for 27 days Lima came into face the red-hot heart of the Royals batting order. Lima claimed Pujols put him in these situations to embarrass him, which did not make sense to him because, as only Lima could say, “..it’s not like I hit on his wife or anything!”

The Tigers soon released Lima, prompting this quote for the ages: “If I can’t pitch on this team—the worst or second-worst team in baseball—where am I going to pitch? If I can’t start on this ballclup I must be the worst pitcher on Earth.” According to his numbers, maybe not Earth, but definitely America.

2003 and 2004 saw Lima appear to improve though the numbers were a bit deceiving. Though he went 8-3 for the Royals in ’03 he had just a 1.23 K:BB and a 1.45 WHIP. In 2004 he went 13-5 with the Dodgers, but his ERA of 4.07 translated to a 5.24 FIP. While his 1998-99 seasons were of high quality, 2003 and 2004 were more likely closer to his bad seasons regardless of his 21-8 combined record. In 2005 he posted a 6.99 ERA, the highest of all-time for any pitcher with 30+ starts. Ironically, his FIP was over one point lower, at 5.89.

After separate stints with the 2006 Mets, Lima’s major league baseball career was over. He had been given more chances due to succes in the past and a bulldog personality but had not been particularly effective since 1999. His career was fun to watch as you could tell he really loved to play and always took time to interact with fans. He is the kind of player that many fans, myself included, wish had more talent because of the personality.

Without trying to get too sentimental as the career of someone I grew up with ends, I will always remember Lima for his 2004 playoffs shutout against the Cardinals. The Dodger crowd went crazy and as he kneeled to thank the heavens it was clear he meant every bit of the thankfulness. Many other heavenly salutes come off as going through the motions, like the high-five following a free-throw in basketball. While I generally dislike this godly praise, Lima’s reaction will forever be entrenched in my mind.

Unfortunately for baseball fans, especially those who root for the teams he stunk on, Lima’s talent came nowhere near the level of his personality. While “Lima Time” is now officially over it more likely ended six to eight years ago. Still, though, it was never a dull ride. Bbbbbelieve it!