Ubaldo’s an Ace

Rocktober may well return in 2009. Following a dramatic 14-inning win over the San Francisco Giants last night, Colorado holds a four-game lead in the Wild card standings. That’s not insurmountable by any means, but Baseball Prospectus’ Postseason Odds Report gives the club a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs.

Once adjusting for the run-inflating nature of Coors, Colorado’s offense has been decidedly middle-of-the pack (they rank 7th in the NL in Park-Adjusted Batting Runs, at a collective -7 compared to the league average). The team’s D hasn’t exactly been sterling, either, placing 28th in team UZR. Rather, it’s the pitching that’s keeping the Rockies in the running. Colorado’s starters have authored a 3.92 FIP, 5th in the N.L. Once again adjusting for the environment of their home ball park, Colorado ranks 1st in the NL in starting pitching runs above average, at +146.5.

The man leading the charge is 25 year-old Ubaldo Jimenez. In his first full year in the rotation in 2008, Jimenez showed a world of promise, though also a maddening tendency to lose the strike zone. The Dominican Republic native (signed back in 2001) punched out 7.79 batters per nine innings, while also causing the opposition to chop the ball into the dirt with great frequency (54.4 GB%). He did, however, issue 4.67 BB/9 in his 198.2 frames of work.

In 2009, Jimenez has taken his pitching to a different level. The punch outs (7.95 K/9) and grounders (52 GB%) remain, but his walk rate has been pared down to 3.41 per nine innings. That fact that Ubaldo has managed to increase his K rate while facing fewer hitters per inning (4.5 batters faced per inning in ’08, 4.18 in ’09) is very impressive. His percentage of PA ending in a strikeout has risen from 19.8 in 2008 to 21.1 this season.

Everything Ubaldo throws is working in ’09. Everyone knows about the 6-4 righty’s searing fastball velocity (his 96 MPH average is tops in the majors). However, he is far more than a one-trick pony. That fastball has been worth +0.66 runs above average per 100 tosses, but Jimenez’s wicked 86 MPH slider (+2.17 runs/100), 77 MPH curveball (+0.56) and hard 87 MPH changeup/splitter (+2.12) are causing plenty of hitters to return to the dugout, grumbling and wondering just how they’re supposed to hit this guy.

Jimenez doesn’t appear to receive a whole lot of love nationally (though outdueling Tim Lincecum on Sunday will surely help), but he is establishing himself as one of the premier starters in the National League.

Ubaldo can flummox batters with any of four above-average-to-plus pitches. He possesses strong groundball tendencies, which certainly can’t hurt in a hazardous pitching venue (grounders may yield a higher BABIP than flyballs, but those flyballs that aren’t caught are typically extra base hits and yield a far higher slugging percentage; that’s why all things being equal, groundball-centric pitchers are preferable). And now, his control appears to have taken a step forward.

Jimenez is an ace, and one can make a case that he’s the best starter in the pitching-rich NL West not named “Haren” or “Lincecum.”

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

9 Responses to “Ubaldo’s an Ace”

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  1. Matt B. says:

    Do we see any additional upside with his command? He’s had stretches (6-8 starts) where his BB/9 has been below 3.0 so presumably he could be even better in the future.

    If so, that could be an even deadlier combo. Though with his current K rate and ground ball rate the package seems pretty complete!

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  2. Ted Lehman says:

    How does Jimenez project going forward? I have an option of keeping him in a keeper league in 2010, but I’m wary of guys who suddenly find their command, since they so often lose it again at the drop of a hat. If he can keep his command intact — or even improve it — he’s got a chance to be a top-10 starter for a long time.

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    • Matt B. says:

      Option of keeping him? He’s already close to being a top-10 fantasy starter as is.

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      • Ted Lehman says:

        Well, I need to keep two of Halladay, Lester and Jimenez, so it’s not a set-in-stone decision.

        But yes, he’s borderline top-10 as it is.

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      • Matt B. says:

        Hmm. Yeah, Lester and Halladay are both better options at this point I’d say.

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      • wobatus says:

        I have Lincecum, Johan santana, Greinke, Felix hernandez, Ubaldo and Hanson. Santana’s injury may make my decision easier but I have one hell of a freeze issue on my hands.

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      • Chasing Saves says:

        I can keep him as a 14th round pick. No brainer?

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  3. Rob says:

    Thanks for the article — great read!

    He’s a guy I’m kinda hoping doesn’t explode and have a great postseason, because I’m loving the thought of having him available to me in the opening rounds of my 9-team, 6-keeper league as I think he’s going to be put back in play.

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  4. kldub4life says:

    I would say the chance of his command improving is very high. He will be a 26 year old in 2010 entering his third year set in the rotation as a starter. He is learning to trust his stuff (which is absolutely electric) do not be surprised if he is in Cy Young contention come summer time.

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