Ubaldo Jimenez: Cleveland Indians Hoping He Returns to Ace Status

Evan VogelContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2013

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 16:  Ubaldo Jimenez #30 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Detroit Tigers during their game on September 16, 2012 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio.   The Indians defeated the Tigers 7-6.  (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
David Maxwell/Getty Images

Ubaldo Jimenez was the jewel to help the Cleveland Indians contend—at least, that was the expectation when he was acquired for Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride and Joseph Gardner on July 30, 2011.

The only issue is that the Indians have not really cashed in on their acquisition. Jimenez is 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP in 242 innings—a far cry from the 56-45 record, 3.66 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 851 innings with the Colorado Rockies.

The Indians themselves have not done well, either, posting an 85-125 record since the trade—a .405 winning percentage.

It is hard to see how the Indians will suddenly become contenders, even after a solid offseason that saw them sign Nick Swisher, Brett Myers and Mark Reynolds while also acquiring depth through minor league contracts and trades with Mike Aviles, Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes and Ben Francisco.

However, if the team were to have Justin Masterson and/or Ubaldo Jimenez pitch to their greatest potential, it could become just that, especially in the AL Central.

Terry Francona's managerial skills will have little to do with whether or not Jimenez is able to reach his earlier success, as Mickey Callaway—the Indians' pitching coach—will have greater involvement in that area. Whether or not Callaway—who was 4-11 with a 6.27 ERA over 40 career games in the majors—can get a player to be better than he ever was is questionable, but there are reasons to believe that Jimenez could get his stuff together again.

Jimenez has not always been so wild. In his 2009 and 2010 seasons, he was 34-20 with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. During those seasons, he posted a 3.6 BB/9 and an 8.4 K/9. And when he started "declining" in 2011 due to his 4.68 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, Jimenez still had an 8.6 K/9 and a 3.7 BB/9. Even his inflated ERA was subject to those around him defensively, as his xFIP in 2011 was 3.71.

In 2012, Jimenez was very wild, posting a 4.8 BB/9, and his strikeouts per nine innings fell to 7.3.

Could he simply throw more strikes and become valuable again?

Jimenez threw just 59 percent of his pitches for strikes in 2012, down from 61 percent in 2011 (which was actually higher than his 60 percent rate in his breakout 2010 season). If he throws about 3,300 pitches (which is roughly his average over the last three seasons), the difference between throwing 59 percent strikees and 61 percent is a whopping 33 pitches.

Jimenez's struggles have very little to do with his location, so is it his drop in velocity? In 2009 and 2010, his fastball averaged 96.1 miles per hour. In 2011, that figure dropped to 93.5, and in 2012, it fell to 92.5.

Considering that Jimenez's fastball still averaged the 23rd-highest velocity in baseball, is the drop really that big of a concern, especially when his changeup velocity has fallen from 87.7 to 83.5 miles per hour in the same time frame?

Shouldn't Jimenez be able to keep opposing hitters more off-balance like he did in 2010 considering the greater difference in his average fastball and changeup? But is he actually keeping opposing hitters off-balance at all? Maybe opposing hitters just have better luck now.

In 2009 and 2010, Jimenez posted BABIP of .280 and .271. In 2011 and 2012, his BABIP went up to .314 and .309. In 2009 and 2010, he gave up a total of 23 home runs, allowing a home run to fly ball rate of just 6.3 percent. In 2012, he allowed 25 home runs and had an 11.8 percent home run to fly ball rate. Meanwhile, his line-drive rate has ballooned from 16.2 percent in 2010 to 23.4 percent in 2012.

There is no telling whether it is location, velocity or luck, but Jimenez has fallen flat on his face since being traded to Cleveland. While his track record in Colorado doesn't suggest that he is as bad as he has been for the Tribe, you have to wonder if he can make adjustments or regain confidence to take a step toward becoming a solid contributor at the major league level in 2013.

Jimenez could be a free agent after the 2013 season, as he can void his half of an $8 million mutual option since he was traded by Colorado. If he has a miserable season, the Indians could still buy him out for $1 million.

Jimenez may not go back to a 19-8 record and a 2.88 ERA in 2013 for Cleveland, but he certainly won't go 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA, as he did in 2012. You'd like to think that he could fall into the mid-point of those two extremes, which would lead him to a 14-12 record and a 4.00 ERA.

While that isn't ace material, it is certainly better than what the Indians have received from Jimenez to this point. And while that statement doesn't solidify the title of this article, it is, at least, a step in the right direction.

All statistics found at Fangraphs.com, particularly Ubaldo Jimenez's page.