Is Ubaldo Jimenez Worth It to the Indians Even Without the Suspension?

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Is Ubaldo Jimenez Worth It to the Indians Even Without the Suspension?
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
Ubaldo Jimenez: Looks like he's a nice guy when he's not throwing at people.

Earlier today, my Horsehide Chronicles co-writer Ian Casselberry argued that the Cleveland IndiansUbaldo Jimenez should be suspended for hitting Troy Tulotwizki on Sunday. Normally, I don’t like to assume intent about these things, but under the circumstances—including a history of bad feeling between the two and the way the pitch seemed to have eyes for Tulowitzki—it seems safe to assume intention. Major League Baseball felt likewise, suspending Jimenez five games.

Putting aside the issue of a suspension, a bigger one is if Jimenez should be pitching for the Indians at all. The Tribe went all in on their pursuit of an AL Central title last year, dealing four players—including their two top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White—for Jimenez. They also pulled their top position players out of the minors—Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis and Cord Phelps. None of it got them even to a .500 record.

Jimenez is a particularly odd case. Since his first-half breakthrough in 2010, there have been Cy Young expectations for him. That season broke down to an 11-1 start with a 0.93 ERA then a midseason slump that spanned six starts and a 7.64 ERA and finally a recovery and strong finish.

He never hit those same highs last year, but if you ignore his ERA and just look at what he was accomplishing on the mound then all of the numbers are identical—same or better hits per innings pitched, home runs per nine, walks allowed and strikeouts.

The same is roughly true of his trip to Cleveland. His hits allowed went up, which speaks to the Indians’ defense (sixth-worse in the AL) and his home run rate declined slightly, but Jimenez was still the same guy overall.

Jimenez is also inexpensive if you take those peripherals as a greater indicator of his abilities than his actual ERA since those first dozen starts of 2010—4.46. He’ll make $4.2 million this year and then is under two club options, one for $4.2 million and one for $5.75 million. Both are subject to a $1 million buyout.

If you look at Jimenez’s FIP (fielding-independent pitching) over the last four years, he’s been very consistent at 3.49, not getting too much higher or lower than that figure. Think of the pitchers who have had actual ERAs in that vicinity during that period and what they’re making this season:

Name

ERA

$ (Millions)

Dan Haren

3.39

12.75

Wandy Rodriguez

3.40

10.00

Justin Verlander

3.45

20.00

Hiroki Kuroda

3.45

10.00

Yovani Gallardo

3.62

5.50

Ted Lilly

3.71

10.50

Matt Garza

3.72

9.50


Again, Jimenez is making just $4.2 million. Gallardo, the closest to him here, will soon pass him—his compensation will jump to $7.75 million next year, $11.25 million in 2014 and $13 million (assuming no buyout) in 2015. Jimenez is the equivalent of finding a million-dollar baby in the five- and 10-cent store.

Of course, that assumes that he’s not going around plunking batters over petty squabbles. Whether the Indians can support him sufficiently defensively or offensively to get true value from him (doubtful) or will contend in the three-season window before he does get expensive (maybe, but also doubtful) is a different matter. So is the question of whether he will prove to have been worth both Pomeranz and White, or if they will prove to be worthy of him.

As cheap and effective as he is, if either of those pitchers is hitting his stride just as Jimenez is out the door then the transaction will have proved to set the Indians back by years.

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