In this era of Major League Baseball, where all 30 teams are desperate for any starting pitching, Ubaldo Jimenez is getting shafted because of a broken system that was originally designed to help players.
This year's free-agent pitching class lacked that one dominant starter (unless you count Masahiro Tanaka as a free agent and believe he will be a top-of-the-rotation arm), but it had a lot of depth.
Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, A.J. Burnett, Ricky Nolasco and Bartolo Colon were the cream of the free-agent crop. Garza, Nolasco and Colon have all found homes. Burnett contemplated retirement before finally deciding to play again in 2014, according to Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
A.J. Burnett will return to pitch in '14, per source. Burnett will be open to pitching for a club other than the Pirates— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) January 28, 2014
Meanwhile, Jimenez and Santana are still waiting to find a contract. Making the situation even worse for Jimenez could be a much lower price than he anticipated when the offseason started.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, appearing on MLB Network, said Jimenez may land a deal in the three-year, $39 million range (h/t MLBTradeRumors.com).
To put that in perspective, take a look at the contracts handed out to starting pitchers this offseason.
|Free Agent Contracts|
|Matt Garza||4 yrs, $50 mil||Milwaukee Brewers|
|Ricky Nolasco||4 yrs, $48 mil||Minnesota Twins|
|Masahiro Tanaka||7 yrs, $155 mil||New York Yankees|
The Tanaka contract is a special circumstance because he's just 25 years old and has been hyped in some circles as being better than Yu Darvish.
But if we look at the last four years for Jimenez compared to Garza and Nolasco, you can see how lopsided things are for the former Cleveland starter.
|Free Agent Pitcher Stat Comparison, 2010-13|
Keep in mind when looking at Jimenez's ERA that he pitched all of 2010 and half of 2011 in Coors Field, which is going to inflate pitcher stats.
Another factor that doesn't get talked about enough when evaluating pitchers is innings pitched. It should be one of the biggest topics of discussion, as it shows durability and makes a team trust that you will take the ball every fifth day.
Jimenez has been as durable as any pitcher in baseball, making at least 31 starts every year since 2008.
There is also the matter of what Jimenez was able to do in 2013, particularly the second half. No one will deny that everything he did from April 2012 to April 2013 was a disaster. Jimenez was barely a replacement level starter in 2012, posting a 5.40 ERA and 143-95 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
But if you examine the way Jimenez transformed himself, it's impressive what the numbers tell us.
|Ubaldo Jimenez Second Half Stats, 2013|
|3.0 WAR||T-1st (Anibal Sanchez)|
|1.82 ERA||2nd (Clayton Kershaw)|
|10.71 K/9 IP||2nd (Yu Darvish)|
|100 K||2nd (Yu Darvish)|
There are always dangers in looking at small sample sizes, but Jimenez's evolution can be traced to improved mechanics that make it easier to think this performance will carry over into 2014 and beyond.
This first video is from a start Jimenez made in April 2013 against Kansas City. There are two specific points of interest.
First, as Jimenez comes towards the plate, notice how his hips fly open. You can see that it causes his release point to shift from pitch to pitch, and the fastball sails up and inside to right-handed hitters.
Second, Jimenez has almost no push off his right (drive) leg in this highlight. He's always had an arm-heavy delivery, but this is alarming because it's putting all the stress on his arm and shoulder to generate velocity.
Now look at this video from September 2013, also against Kansas City, after Jimenez cleaned up his mechanics.
There are still moments where the hips fly open, but for the most part you can see that he's staying closed longer and has a much better line to the plate. He's also pushing off more with his drive leg to take some stress off his shoulder.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wrote an in-depth piece about the work Jimenez did with Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway to turn the former All-Star's season, and career, around. The answer, as you would expect, all came down to posture.
In order to generate greater arm speed, Jimenez had tried to cheat biomechanics by leaning his right shoulder back to load his scapula and create greater leverage. This threw everything out of sync even more, so the solution was simple: get rid of it. Jimenez took well to the ramrod-straight torso, as he did the final piece: a strong front side. This is where Jimenez practices in front of the mirror these days. He holds his glove-side arm out toward the batter and lets it guide his throwing arm to the plate.
We appreciate greatness in pitchers like Clayton Kershaw and Darvish because they make things look so easy, but there should be a level of appreciation for what Jimenez has done to reinvent his career.
Jimenez was a pariah in Cleveland following the 2012 season, with the New York Daily News putting him on its "Turkeys of 2012" list and declaring him "the worst pitcher in baseball."
Stepping back to figure out what the problem was, pinpointing it and then being able to translate those changes into actual performance speaks volumes about Jimenez's work ethic and character.
At just 30 years old, Jimenez is more than one full year younger than Santana and Nolasco and three months younger than Garza. He's got a better and longer track record than those three pitchers, which makes it more alarming that Nolasco and Garza have signed deals worth almost $100 million combined.
Jimenez is not without risk. No one knows what will happen if you take him away from Callaway. He isn't likely to give up just one home run in a two-month span as he did last August and September.
There is also the matter of giving up a draft pick for any team that signs Jimenez, but given how favorable the pitching market appears to be for teams right now, the fact that he will likely go into February without a contract is a joke.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Videos via MLB Advanced Media.
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