Is Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana a Better Fit for Blue Jays?

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Is Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana a Better Fit for Blue Jays?
Colin E. Braley/Associated Press

The Toronto Blue Jays haven't done a Toronto Blue Jays-y thing yet this offseason. Not if we're going off the 2012-2013 definition of that term, anyway.

But the Blue Jays might finally be ready for a Blue Jays-y thing, and it's their starting pitching staff that stands to benefit. Provided they pick the right guy, of course.

We'll get to that. First, here's the latest from Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com:

The Jays have yet to make an offer to a free-agent starter, according to major league sources. But they have done extensive background work on right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, digging into his medical records, and also remain interested in righty Ervin Santana and other free agents, sources said.

Rosenthal also noted that the Blue Jays are weighing trade options too, as well as older free-agent pitchers A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo.

But it does make sense that Jimenez and Santana would be the two guys at the top of Alex Anthopoulos' wish list. They're both younger pitchers, and the Blue Jays don't have to worry about losing a first-round draft pick to sign either one. Toronto holds the No. 9 and No. 11 picks in the 2014 draft, and both are protected.

Now, either would be a good get for Toronto based on what they've done lately and what they're projected to do, uh, soonly. We can illustrate this point by using FanGraphs data and Steamer projections to look at their 2013 performances and their projected 2014 performances:

Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Ervin Santana
Player Split IP K% BB% ERA FIP WAR
Jimenez 2013 182.2 25.0 10.3 3.30 3.43 3.2
Jimenez Projected '14 192.0 21.9 9.8 4.03 3.79 2.5
Santana 2013 211.0 18.7 5.9 3.24 3.93 3.0
Santana Projected '14 192.0 18.8 6.8 3.96 3.71 2.7

FanGraphs

Santana was reliable and more of a workhorse in 2013, but Jimenez was essentially the better pitcher. In the end, their value was roughly the same. The projections see the tables turning in Santana's favor in 2014, but the values will still be about even if they pan out.

If it feels like they're similar pitchers, that's because they kinda are. While Jimenez does have a splitter and Santana does have a changeup, both are essentially fastball/slider pitchers who sit in the low-90s with their heaters. Both used to throw harder, sure, but both are adjusting to life with less velocity by putting more trust in their sinkers.

And if I'm the Blue Jays, that's where I'm beginning my deeper dive.

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

It's not a given that Rogers Centre is going to be a launching pad in a given year, but ESPN's Park Factors have had it as a top-10 home run park in three of the last five seasons. Around Rogers Centre, meanwhile, are other good offensive stadiums in Orioles Park at Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.

To this end, Santana probably looks like the scarier option at first glance. With a HR/FB rate over 10 percent in four of the last five seasons, he has struggled with gopheritis. Jimenez, meanwhile, has posted a HR/FB over 10 percent in just one of the last five seasons.

But then you look a little more closely at the two sinkers. Courtesy of Brooks Baseball, here's some stuff:

Sinker Battle: Jimenez vs. Santana
Year Jimenez Sinker % Santana Sinker % Jimenez GB/BIP Santana GB/BIP
2010 24.31 3.57 54.55 35.29
2011 30.32 5.89 53.77 63.64
2012 26.91 0 40.80 0
2013 30.99 21.01 49.71 60.13

Brooks Baseball

Note: Just to clarify, the GB/BIP rates are for the sinkers only.

Santana doesn't have the track record with his sinker that Jimenez has, nor did he use his quite as frequently in 2013. That 60.13 GB/BIP rate, however, says Santana's sinker was clearly the better of the two at accomplishing what sinkers are supposed to accomplish.

This was certainly a factor in Santana posting a career-best GB% of 46.2 in 2013. Jimenez was at 43.9, a figure pretty far off from the career-best of 54.4 he posted back in 2008.

As such, you do wonder if Santana's potential as a ground-ball artist is just beginning to be untapped, whereas Jimenez's best days as a ground-ball artist have already passed him by. Further, any team that signs Santana has an opportunity to untap that potential all the way by convincing him to make like A.J. Burnett and reduce his four-seamer to second fiddle status. The Blue Jays could be that team.

Let's consider this one nod in Santana's favor, as a higher ground ball potential means a greater chance of fitting at Rogers Centre and, indeed, all AL East parks. Huzzahs all around.

There's another thing about Santana that ought to fit well in the AL East, and that's his control.

The AL East tends to be one of MLB's more patient divisions, and it should be just that in 2014. The Rays and Red Sox both finished in the top five in MLB in BB% last year, and the Yankees should do better than a tie for 15th in 2014 with an offense that should have fewer holes in it.

Santana hasn't posted a BB% over 8.0 in any of the last five seasons, and is coming off a year in which he had a 5.9 BB% and a 65.0 strike percentage (his best since 2008). Move him to the AL East, and you're not creating a situation where the locals would be ready to feast on his wildness.

Which pitcher is a better fit for Toronto?

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It's a different story with Jimenez. He's posted a BB% over 10 percent in three of the last four years, in which his composite 10.5 BB% is seventh-highest among all qualified pitchers.

And Jimenez might have deserved worse than the 10.3 BB% he posted last year. Baseball Info Solutions has his Zone% dropping from 46.3 in 2012 to 44.1 in 2013, and the decrease in his BB% (12.2 to 7.9) he enjoyed in the second half is slightly misleading.

Jimenez had seven starts in the second half in which he walked two or fewer. Five of those were against the Marlins, Orioles, Royals, White Sox and Astros, largely impatient clubs that all finished in the bottom eight of MLB in BB%.

So now we have two points for Santana, one for his seemingly higher ground-ball potential and one for the fact that his control isn't a recipe for trouble in the AL East. More huzzahs.

If there's a point for Jimenez, it's in the spike his strikeout rate experienced in 2013, and it is expected to remain safely above average in 2014. There's really not much to suggest Santana has the ability to be a superior strikeout artist. He wasn't in 2013, isn't projected to be in 2014, and hasn't been much of a strikeout artist since he was regularly throwing 95 in 2008.

But that's yet another positive trend that can be chalked up to Jimenez's huge second-half run, as his K% climbed from 21.7 to 29.1. Five of the six starts in which he had nine or more strikeouts came after the break. One was against the Astros. Two were against the Twins. One was against the Braves

Fun fact: In 2013, those three teams ranked 1-2-3 in K%.

I feel like I'm ragging on Jimenez. I guess I am a bit. But even despite his strong 2013 and decent 2014 projections, there's just not a whole lot about him that I'm willing to trust. He's not the nasty pitcher he used to be, his walks are a problem and the big strides he appeared to make down the stretch look too much like a trap.

Santana's not entirely trustworthy in his own right, mind you. He did have an ERA over 5.00 in 2012, and the fact that he isn't overpowering is a buzzkill.

But the Blue Jays don't need to look hard to know that Santana is a workhorse with good command, and they should be encouraged that he has the potential to grow as a ground-ball artist. 

If they want to do a Toronto Blue Jays-y thing, he's their guy.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

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