Will Ubaldo Jimenez Bounce Back?

Through seven starts last season, Ubaldo Jimenez was the best pitcher in baseball. In 48.1 innings pitched, Jimenez allowed 28 hits while striking out 49 batters en route to a miniscule 0.93 ERA. This season, things have changed for the 27-year-old hurler. In his first seven starts this season, Jimenez hardly looks like the same pitcher. Over that same period, Jimenez carries an unsightly 6.14 ERA. Expected to be entrenched in a fight for the division crown all season, the Colorado Rockies need to figure out what’s wrong with their ace before it’s too late.

There are a few reasons to be optimistic about Jimenez’s current performance. Despite the high ERA, Jimenez is currently striking out batters at a career rate. His BABIP is slightly higher than normal, and his LOB% is a paltry 61.8%. All told, Jimenez has performed much better than his ERA has indicated this season, posting a 4.45 FIP and a 4.24 xFIP. Still, that’s hardly the type of performance the Rockies expect from their ace.

There currently seems to be two main reasons for Jimenez’s struggles- the first of which is control. Never his strength, Ubaldo’s control has completely deserted him this season. In 36.2 innings, Jimenez has walked 23 batters, good for a 5.65 BB/9. Oddly enough, Ubaldo’s first-strike percentage is the highest since his rookie season, making his struggles all the more confusing. Ubaldo has been able to get ahead in the count early, but appears to lose hitters as he gets deeper into at-bats.

The second reason for Ubaldo’s struggles is his declining velocity. According to PitchFx, Ubaldo’s velocity is down on nearly all of his pitches this season. The most drastic change has occurred with his slider, which has dropped from 86.4 to 82.6 mph. On top of that, his fastball is down nearly two miles per hour. The dropoff seems to have had a clear effect on the effectiveness of Jimenez’s pitches. Both his fastball and slider currently carry a negative pitch type value this season. Over his career, those have been Ubaldo’s best pitches.

There seems to be one unified theory that helps explain Ubaldo’s poor start to the season: his mechanics are out of whack. This would go a long way toward explaining both his issues with walks, and his lack of velocity. If Jimenez cannot find his proper release point, he’s going to have less control over his pitches. If something is out of whack with his mechanics, that would easily explain why his velocity is down. Jim Tracy seemed to agree with that assessment, noting the following after Ubaldo’s start on Tuesday.

“There is no doubt in my mind that what we’re dealing with here is mechanical in nature, and once he gets the complete feel for that and the consistency of it to repeat it pitch after pitch after pitch, then I think you’re going to see the Ubaldo Jimenez that you guys have been waiting for, and all of us have been waiting for, actually, to show up.

If his start on Tuesday was any indication, Jimenez may already be working through his issues. In his longest outing of the season, Jimenez walked only one batter – the first time that has happened since his season debut. For a pitcher like Jimenez, who doesn’t have the “ideal” delivery, even the slightest change to mechanics can have a devastating effect on performance. The good thing is that Jimenez, his coach and his trainer seem to realize the issue at hand is not physical, and are working to correct it. So long as there’s no physical issue with Jimenez – and we have no reason to believe there are – we should start seeing the old Jimenez again. The one that finished third in the Cy Young voting last season.



Print This Post



Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
RC
Guest
RC

” Despite the high ERA, Jimenez is currently striking out batters at a career rate”

This is why using K/9 is dumb.

He’s K’ing 22.1% of batters he faces this year. He was K’ing 24% of batters last year. Thats not an increase.

He’s getting hit harder. Its that simple.

Any stat that thinks a hit is a better outcome for a pitcher than a flyout/groundout is a stat that doesn’t make much sense. Stop pretending /IP is defense independant. Its not.

fjrobinson44
Member
fjrobinson44

The tone of that post did not make me want to hear what you had to say. Especially when you called the writer dumb right off the bat.

RC
Guest
RC

When writers consistenly use statistics that are seriously flawed, I’d call that dumb.

K/9 doesn’t tell you how well a guy strikes people out. Its essentially a ratio of K% and the inverse of babip. (IE, K/IP where most of the IP is made up of BABIP)

Which leads into why FIP is such a flawed stat (IE, it claims to be defense-independant, but its denominator is heavily dependant on BABIP)

In both of these stats, giving up a hit is better than having a fielder catch the ball.

Garrett
Guest
Garrett

And fjrobinson’s comment goes right over RC’s head.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21

This seems like a valid point (if presented in an overly belligerent manner). However, I wonder if this is actually very significant for most pitchers, or in this specific case. K/9 shows that his strikeout rate has climbed a little, but not much (8.69 last year, 9.08 so far this year). K% shows that his strikeout rate has fallen a bit, but again, not much. I think the assumption that batters faced is fairly constant per inning pitched should be critically evaluated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the reality is that that assumption turns out to be accurate for the vast majority of pitchers.

GVeers
Guest

He didn’t say the writer was dumb, he called the stat dumb. Big difference. And I think it’s a very good point he was making.

RC
Guest
RC

Doing some quick calculations, BF/IP varies quite a bit from pitcher to pitcher, but actually seems to be VERY consistent year to year for individual pitchers.

Seems to range from 3.9 to about 5.

For instance, Jon Lester the last 4 years:

4.155
4.146
4.139
4.127

4.25 or so seems to be the norm. Ubaldo is up over 4.5 right now, which is whats making it look like his “strikeout rate is up”

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

K/9 is a fine stat if you simply acknowledge what it is, by definition. It’s the % of his outs that the pitcher achieved via strikeout (x27). Which is a useful thing to know. Is the pitcher getting outs via strikeout, or via balls-in-play?

But it is not what % of batters a pitcher strikes out.

ElKabong
Guest
ElKabong

Picking one data point does not make for a successful argument. I’m just going to “arbitrarily” look at Dan Haren’s BF/IP for the last three full years…

2010: 4.23
2009: 3.96
2008: 4.08

Looks consistent to me!

Also, BABIP and BF/IP had a .643 correlation among pitchers with at least 50 IP, so while we’re picking on stats that aren’t “defense independent”…

K/9 is simply a measure of how pitchers get batters out. It’s not necessarily “defense independent”. Its correlation with BABIP is .002 (for 50+ IP last year), just as a side note, so it looks pretty defense independent to me anyway! Meanwhile, K%/BABIP had a correlation of -.104, still small, but a bigger value than K/9 nonetheless. Probably because the denominator of K% takes into account players who reach base because the defense doesn’t get them out…

Also, FIP has almost zero correlation with BABIP (-.001 for 50+ IP last year), so I would check your numbers on that.

Yes, Jimenez is definitely getting hit harder than last year (as shown by his LD%), which is a big part of why he’s been struggling. I definitely and wholeheartedly agree with that part of your argument. But to say that K/9 is “stupid” and K% is more defense independent is just bunk, considering they’re functionally the same thing.

RC
Guest
RC

” It’s the % of his outs that the pitcher achieved via strikeout (x27). Which is a useful thing to know.”

If the assumption that FIP makes, IE, that BABIP is Random/Uncontrollable, then K/9 is essentially this:

27* (OutsViaK)/(OutsViaK + OutsViaBIP)

where OutsViaBIP is an essentially random number that is signfiicantly larger than OutsViaK. I’m not sure how thats useful.

RC
Guest
RC

“Also, FIP has almost zero correlation with BABIP (-.001 for 50+ IP last year), so I would check your numbers on that.”

Take the normalizing factor out of FIP and recheck your numbers (IE, the +3.2 or whatever it is)

ElKabong
Guest
ElKabong

Taking out a constant will change the correlation by… zero. It’s a constant. Correlation compares the relative value of one thing to the relative value of another. If you’re adding the same constant to everything, the relationship between the values stay the same.

wpDiscuz