Why Is Ubaldo Jimenez of the Cleveland Indians So Bad?
The Cleveland Indians acquired Ubaldo Jimenez at the trade deadline last season, trading away Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joseph Gardner and Matt McBride for the Rockies ace. Jimenez picked up a lot of attention by winning 15 games in 2009 and striking out nearly 200 batters that season, only to have his notoriety taken to a whole new level in 2010.
2010 was the season that Jimenez was 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA...at the All-Star break. The second half of 2010 wasn't anywhere near as great, but Jimenez was still a solid rotation anchor for the Colorado Rockies, going 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA.
On July 31, 2011, the Indians lost to the Kansas City Royals and were 2.5 games behind Detroit for first place. The Tribe would go on to finish the season at 80-82, 15 games behind the Tigers for first place in the AL Central. This is where the story begins for Jimenez, as his career has taken an odd turn since his arrival in Cleveland, but even moreso since the All-Star game in 2010.
In 2010, Ubaldo Jimenez threw a fastball that averaged 96.1 mph. He dominated hitters in the first half, striking out 113 batters in 127 innings. He also kept opposing hitters off balance at that time with an 86.6 mph slider.
That fastball now averages 92.1 mph, and his slider now averages 81.9 mph. While anyone on the street would be impressed with a 92 mph fastball and would love the ability to do such a thing, it is just about average in Major League Baseball. While a 92.1 mph fastball leaves Jimenez with the 36th highest fastball velocity in the game, it is a clear indication of just how much his stuff has changed or deteriorated since 2010.
When you don't have the velocity and the stuff, you get hit. In the second half of 2010, Jimenez had a batting average allowed of .223, up from .198 in the first half. In 2011, the number rose to .254, including .270 after the All-Star break, and a .261 average after arriving in Cleveland.
The 2012 season has been pretty devastating for Jimenez. While opposing teams are hitting .264 against him, he has walked 42 batters in just 56 innings. When guys are on base ahead of the guys hitting .264, it leads to runs.
Opposing teams have a .386 OBP against Jimenez and an .823 OPS. That is the same OBP that Derek Jeter has right now (amidst a .340/.386/.456 season), and about the same OPS as Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (who is making a strong case for NL Rookie of the Year, which will probably just be given to Bryce Harper, anyway).
Ubaldo Jimenez's stuff just isn't where it used to be, and if he keeps walking hitters at his current rate, it isn't going to get better.
Bad Luck: It May Only Get Worse
Last season, Ubaldo was very unlucky in his 10-13, 4.86 ERA campaign. One thing that sticks out was his BABIP, which was .315. This was higher than the league average of .300, which could have led to several of the unlucky starts that Jimenez had.
In 2012, his BABIP is .279, which is clearly on the below-league average side of .300. If Jimenez evens out to his career .286 BABIP, he could be in for even worse times. It's especially scary that his walk rate is 15.9%—if he is walking nearly 16% of batters that he faces and his batting average allowed inflates to .270 from .254, he would allow nearly 11 base runners per game over 5.6 innings (based on his current ten starts, 56 innings, and 264 batters faced).
If you have 11 men on base in five innings, you're not going to have many quality starts.
He Is Not Leaving Runners on Base
In 2010, Jimenez stranded 76.5% of baserunners, which inflated his career rate to its current 71.0%. He has too many baserunners and far too many walks at this point to continue at that rate, especially when his strikeouts, which reached 214 in 2010 thanks to an 8.69 K-per-nine innings, have dipped to just 33 strikeouts in 56 innings pitched in 2012, thanks to his 5.30 K-per-nine.
When you're not getting hitters out and you're not striking people out, you're on the mound longer. When you see more hitters, you are more likely to make mistakes. Jimenez has allowed eight home runs in 56 innings in 2012, which is 1.29 HR-per-nine. His career HR-per-nine is just 0.65.
This makes for a simple equation: Lots of Walks + Not Many Strikeouts + Allowing Home Runs = Runs Allowed.
Jimenez Is Only Good at Home
Ubaldo Jimenez is 5-3 with a 3.09 ERA in 10 starts at Progressive Field since joining the Indians. He is also 4-5 with an 8.28 ERA in 11 starts on the road. I have said it a few times since I started writing for Bleacher Report in early May: the Indians need to start Jimenez at home and only at home.
It can be for a month. It could be the rest of the season. Jimenez needs some confidence after all of the struggles that he has had since joining the Tribe, and this would be a good way of adding confidence. Go to a six-man rotation if needed to make it happen.
Either way, something needs to change to help make Jimenez into 70% of the pitcher that he was prior to the 2011 season.
The Fact of the Matter Is...
Simply put, 2010 was a career year. If you have a batting average allowed of .207 (career average of .232), a BABIP of .271 (career average of .286) and a WHIP of 1.15 (career average of 1.32), you're going to have a season where you win 19 games. Jimenez was able to do so in 2010 because he was so much better than his averages, which have, of course, only inflated since the 2011 season began.
Ubaldo Jimenez received a contract extension in January of 2009 for four years, $10 million with two club options for 2013 and 2014. The contract is very, very team friendly, as Jimenez will make $5.75 million in 2013 and $8 million in 2014, with $1 million buyouts for both seasons.
Jimenez could have some lingering animosity over his contract, as reported here. Regardless of whether he is a fan of his current contract or not, the 28-year-old right-hander needs to pitch better if he wants to ever cash in again.
He won't be paid like an ace if he doesn't return to form, but the more important question is: Will he ever meet or come close to 2010 again? The answer based on his stuff and numbers is a resounding no. Scott Radinsky, the Indians pitching coach, needs to start working miracles, or Cleveland fans will be left wondering if Drew Pomeranz was the pitcher who could have made the difference between World Series contender or second-place in the AL Central.