Ubaldo Jimenez: Underrated Superstar or Just an Average Joe?

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Ubaldo Jimenez: Underrated Superstar or Just an Average Joe?

Despite having one of the best first names in the world, Ubaldo Jimenez has flown under the radar this year. After a great postseason showing in 2007, is Jimenez really a 24-year-old superstar in the making? Or is he just an average joe?

After a quick glance at his metrics, most people dismiss Jimenez as just another poor-to-decent starter stuck on a bad team. First of all, the Rockies are not a "true" bad team. They have many great players and outstanding potential. Things just aren't working out the way they were last year.

Is the pitching to blame? Probably. The five pitchers in the Rockies rotation who have the most innings combine for an ERA of 5.33. That's almost Ian Snell-esque.

Youth is the answer to the rotation question in Colorado. The oldest of the five starting pitchers is Aaron Cook, at age 29. He has an ERA of 3.58, while the youngest, Greg Reynolds, has an ERA of 6.71.

Then there is Ubaldo Jimenez. At 24, he is in the middle of the pack in Colorado, but anywhere else he would be considered extremely young.

Last year, Jimenez came on a week after the All-Star Break to ease an injury-plagued rotation. He was, much like in the minor leagues, very solid.

This is his first full season as a major-league starter. He's posted a slightly bloated 3.98 ERA through 22 games this year. He's also pitched 129 innings, which brings his average innings per start to just under six.

With a closer look, though, his poor metrics can almost solely be blamed on two bad starts.

The first of these horrible starts came against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 25. Jimenez went 2.1 innings, giving up six runs on seven hits. He was solid after that until May 27, when he faced the Phillies. He went only four innings, giving up seven runs on 10 hits.

If you take those two games out of his starts this year, Jimenez's line is much better: 6-8, 122.2 IP, 3.23 ERA. Any pitcher can make a few poor starts. In this young pitcher's case, two horrible starts were the dampers on an otherwise great season.

Simple statistics like win-loss, ERA, and even WHIP are tough indicators of how good a pitcher actually is. Jimenez's FIP (Fielding Independant Pitching) is 3.90. This statistic eliminates everything that is not entirely in the pitcher's control. It includes, and places higher value on, things like home runs, walks, and strikeouts.

Because his FIP is lower than his ERA, you can tell that Jimenez is supposedly a good pitcher, but the defense he receives raises his ERA.

Another thing that is necessary to look at when evaluating pitchers is their line drive percentage. A good pitcher induces significantly more ground balls than line drives. Jimenez forces ground outs 57.4 percent of the time, fourth in major league baseball.

A good team will take those ground balls and get the base runner out. The Rockies aren't doing that as often as Jimenez would like. When his defense can't stop a runner from reaching base, the 24-year-old's mentality is greatly crushed. He must face another batter and hurl another five pitches at 95 mph.

That's another thing that should be looked at: velocity and pitch selection. Jimenez has a total of four pitches; a fastball, changeup, slider, and curve. The average speed of his fastball is a blazing 94.6 mph, which ranks him third in baseball. Jimenez throws his fastball 71 percent of the time. Opponents are hitting that pitch the best out of all four, at .276. They are hitting his curve .132, his slider .161, and his changeup .213. All-in-all, opposing batters are hitting .238 against Jimenez.

Jimenez allows opposing batters to hit line drives only 16.3 percent of the time, eighth in major league baseball. He's also allowed only eight home runs so far this year, putting his HR/9 seventh in baseball at 0.56.

Home runs allowed shouldn't be a tell-tale sign of a good pitcher, though. In 2007, Johan Santana was very susceptible to the long ball, giving up a total of 33 home runs, making his HR/9 a very high 1.36.

As the Baseball Analysts also note, Jimenez has gotten progressively better in every metric stat this year. Here are his splits for 2008, courtesy the BA:

        ERA    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
April 5.90 .291 .411 .393 .805
May 4.85 .282 .341 .376 .717
June 3.60 .237 .327 .351 .678
July 2.04 .198 .297 .306 .603

At age 24, they say he might simply be learning on the job. His last horrible outing was back in late May, so they may be on to something.

As a whole, Jimenez is a great pitcher stuck on a not-so-great team. He is soaring under the radar this year because of his poor overall metric stats, but he really is a great pitcher.

The best sign of whether a pitcher is great or poor, though, is simply time. Only time will tell if Jimenez is really a superstar waiting to bloom, or the next Mark Prior.

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