When the Baltimore Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year contract worth an estimated $48 million this offseason, they were sending a clear message to both the baseball world and to Ubaldo, himself.
The message to the rest of Major League Baseball was this:
We recognize the championship window we currently have and are willing to invest in additional talent in order to bring a title to Baltimore.
(According to B/R's Joe Giglio, the fans are recognizing the championship window, too)
The message to Ubaldo Jimenez was this:
We believe in you.
In order to confirm that belief and, more importantly, ensure that the Orioles make the playoffs this season, Jimenez will need to do one thing: be consistent.
Unfortunately, consistency has been something Ubaldo has struggled with throughout his career.
It dates back to 2004, when a shoulder injury sidelined him for an extended period of time. In an interview with Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com, he admits that when he returned to the mound he messed around with his mechanics to "make nothing hurt".
The result was the unorthodox delivery that makes him so recognizable today.
In the following video from last season, you can see his unique pitching form.
You can also see his ability to dominate hitters.
The performance in this video occurred during the best stretch of Jimenez's career. Over his final 28 starts in 2013, he posted a 2.61 ERA, including a ridiculous 1.09 ERA during his six starts in September. He also struck out 10 or more batters in four of his final eight starts (per Sports Illustrated).
Those final 28 starts are why Baltimore brought him in.
While some might argue that 2013 was a fluke, the fact that the Orioles gave Jimenez the longest and largest contract given to a pitcher in franchise history makes it pretty clear that their front office doesn't agree.
Neither does Orioles pitching coach, Dave Wallace.
So far, he's been quite impressed with Jimenez's ability to get himself in a good position to throw the ball—something he believes will lead to more consistency.
Speaking to Ghiroli, he had this to say:
Now that we've had him and been able to watch him throw, he really gets himself in a good position. The lower half of his body and his legs and trunk get in a real good position to throw the ball.
When I had Hideo Nomo, everyone talked about how unconventional he was, but he really got himself in good position. That's a resource you pull up, when you've had guys in the past that were somewhat unconventional. But if you break it down, [Jimenez] can be more consistent, without a doubt.
It appears that Jimenez is getting more comfortable with his delivery, which is a great sign. Like Wallace mentions, even the most unconventional pitchers can be consistent. All signs are pointing to this being the case for Ubaldo.
Last season, the Orioles led Major League Baseball in home runs with 212, which was 24 more than the second-place Seattle Mariners had (188). With the addition of Nelson Cruz, there's no reason to believe the O's won't remain at the top of that list in 2014.
What does this have to do with Ubaldo Jimenez?
Well, the beauty of a team with so much home run power is that a victory is never truly out of reach. Runs can be had in a hurry, and if you watched any Orioles games last year, they lived off of three-run home runs.
So, if Jimenez is able to keep the Orioles in ballgames, they'll have a chance in every one of them.
Seeing as how he allowed three or less earned runs in 27 of his 32 starts last season—including 25 of his last 27—I have a feeling this marriage is going to work out quite nicely.
However, like I've said a million times, it's all about consistency. This is an Orioles team with plenty of pitchers that can deliver great performances on occasion. The problem in the past has been that they've followed those up with starts in which they give up eight earned runs.
Can Jimenez continue where he left off last season? The Orioles' playoff hopes depend on it.