July 23, 2014

Is Ubaldo’s 2010 Fausto’s 2007?

Everyone in the baseball universe has essentially said the same thing about the chances for the Indians to compete with the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central crown. They will not be able to hang unless Ubaldo Jimenez finds his old form and pitches like the the top of the rotation starter that Chris Antonetti thought he was getting last summer. Not that anyone has forgotten, but the Indians sent their top two pitching prospects – Alex White and Drew Pomeranz – to get him.

When the Tribe made the deal, there were whispers that Jimenez was hurt. His velocity, which when healthy was regularly in the 95-96 range, was more like 90-91. The command was very up and down. From start to start, the Rockies didn’t know which Ubaldo was going to show up. On top of that, it was well known that Ubaldo was not thrilled that the Rockies had taken care of their other young stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez long term, yet he was still looking for his extension. Adding all of those things up, Colorado GM Dan O’Dowd decided to put his ace on the market with two and a half years left on a club-friendly contract.

The Indians, still right in the hunt for the AL Central, bit. The company line was they were acquiring an in his prime, top of the rotation starter with two and a half years left on his deal. I was on board with the deal when it came down. I saw what Antonetti was trying to do. He saw a two-year window and he was going all in for it. The Tribe’s top positional player prospects are essentially all here. The rest are in A ball level. The time to contend is now.

Now is also the time for Ubaldo Jimenez to show that he is the perfect compliment to Justin Masterson as the lead dogs in the Tribe rotation. But the big question on every Tribe fans mind right now is will Ubaldo ever be that guy?

I write off last season’s 11 start stint with the Tribe to Ubaldo not be completely healthy. In 65 innings, he was 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA, a 1.45 WHIP, striking out 62 and walking 27. This offseason we were told he was working closely with the team in his offseason throwing program and he publicly admitted that he was bothered all last season by a groin injury. So we entered Spring Training with a reportedly healthy and happy Ubaldo, who said being on the Indians was “heaven” to him.

If this is heaven, then his pitching this spring is somewhere south of there.

Jimenez has made four Spring starts. In all four, he has been shaky at best and has really had trouble with his command. The velocity is back up, which is a good sign, but if he doesn’t have his command, Ubaldo usually finds trouble. The numbers are ugly – 15 hits, 10 earned runs, six strikeouts, and nine walks in 9.2 innings pitched. That said, Jimenez doesn’t seem the least bit worried.

“Every time you go to the mound, you’re working on your pitches, the pitch count and get people out at the same time. But it’s not the same as the season,” he said.

I tend to agree. Spring Training games are for guys putting in the work and for a starter like Jimenez, finding that command. But I have to admit I am starting to get concerned. Seeing what Jimenez has become since his magical 2010 season where he started 15-1, started the All Star game for the National League, and finished 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA and 214 K’s in 222 innings, harkens me back to another 19-game winner we once knew.

Think back to 2007 when a big, strong right-hander burst onto the scene in Cleveland with a power sinker that nobody could touch. Start to start, there may have been no pitcher who was tougher to hit. Like Jimenez in 2010, he won 19 games and looked like the next great right-handed pitcher in baseball. He was going to be the future ace of the Indians staff.

That man was named Fausto Carmona. (and for the sake of this post, we will refer to him as Fausto Carmona)

A small difference between the two – 2007 was Carmona’s first year as a starter in Cleveland while Jimenez’s career year of 2010 was his third as a member of the Rockies rotation. We all know the direction Carmona’s career took after 2007. He’s gone 33-48 with an ERA north of five. Things had gotten so bad for him between injuries and mental issues that he was sent all the way back down to Rookie ball in 2009 to re-learn the mechanics of pitching. He never fully regained his form, yet was the Indians opening day starter last season. By the time 2012 rolled around, he was expected to be nothing more than the fifth starter and innings eater for the Tribe before his identity situation was exposed.

Is Jimenez going to follow a similar path? Its way too early to make any sort of judgment that way. I sincerely hope that he is correct, that these Spring Training issues are nothing to be worried about, and he comes out firing rockets and is the guy the Indians hoped he would be. But if he isn’t, and the 2010 Jimenez is long gone, it could be detrimental to this organization.

Only time will tell.

photo via Chuck Crow/PD

  • Boomhauertjs

    Shaprio misfired badly on his first big trade (the Robbie Alomar one – thankfully Robbie suddenly lost his abilities), so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that it looks like Antonetti has done the same.
    Maybe it will be discovered that Ubaldo’s real name is “Fausto Carmona”…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The trade for Jimenez is one move I won’t criticize the Indians for because it was something they needed.  Sadly, to date, it hasn’t gone as planned or hoped.  If it doesn’t work out at least Antonetti will have that one big trade to hang his hat on like his predecessor and who knows maybe Antonetti will be promoted by some mid to low market team where he can oversee baseball operations.

  • kjn

    1.) Spring training stats are beyond meaningless.
    2.) Wins are a silly, useless stat.
    3.) Ubaldo and Fausto are completely different types of pitchers.
    4.) Ubaldo’s K/9 and BB/9 in 2011 were better than his career rates.
    5.) Moving from the NL to the AL means his numbers will increase.
    6.) Ubaldo will be fine.

  • Doconn1188

    I agreed with the trade.  Pomeranz and Alex White are 2-4 years from reaching their prime and Jimenez fits into the two year window of the Indians contention.  It was by far the boldest trade in years.  
    Now that the farm system depleted, its VERY important for Jimenez and the Indians to contend this year and 2013.  

  • Steve

    This analysis ranges from incorrect to just awful, a typical TD article if you will. Jimenez’s velocity fell a bit, from 95-96 but to just 93-94. Also, why aren’t we looking at the rest of Jimenez’s performance, or comparing more than just win totals of each player’s top year?

    Before Jimenez’s best year, he had 2 straight years of about 200 innings of 8 k/9, 126 ERA+. Hernandez hasn’t broken 6 k/9 (even in his career year) and has topped out at a 105 ERA+ since 2007.

    Even if we eliminate Jimenez’s best year, he has averaged 4 WAR/year as a full time player in Colorado. (10 WAR in 2.5 seasons – 2008, 2009 and the first half of 2011). Hernandez has amassed a negative 1.5 WAR in four seasons since 2007.

    Jimenez, even without his career year, has still been a fantastic pitcher. Hernandez has flashed that 2007 ability every once in a while, but hasn’t been an improvement over our AAA depth guys.

  • Boomhauer

    They needed (and still need) a RH power bat, not a middle of the rotation starter.

  • kjn

    Even away from the stats/results, they’re very different pitchers. Jimenez strikes out a lot with a couple good pitches and ridiculous heat. Hernandez relies on one pitch in hopes of getting ground balls.

  • Steve

     They needed to find a way to add star talent to the roster and can’t outbid the New Yorks and Bostons on the free agent market. They did about as well as they could have, and it’s still not good enough for a fanbase that manages to get excited every September for the Browns.

  • EyesAbove

    People are still down on Ubaldo because they didnt like the trade, and I get that. But to compare him to Carmona is a bit of a stretch. His career numbers are better across the board. Ubaldo did have one fluky half a season where he was unhittable, is he going to pitch like a Cy Young candidate this year? Probably not, but if he pitches like the 07-10 Ubaldo we’ll have a pretty solid #2 starter on our hands.

    Carmona had one VERY lucky season and the rest of his career he’s been below average. Ubaldo has been well above average with the exception of last year. Time will tell if he has already peaked, but I dont think Carmona/Ubaldo is a very good comparison.

    Also, pitching like crap in the spring is apparently nothing new for Ubaldo. I wouldnt get too worked up over spring training numbers. Let at least give him 3-4 starts in real games before we begin to sharpen our pitchforks.  

  • kjn

    Ubaldo actually did lose velocity in 2011. I don’t know how to post links, but go to fangraphs.com, find Ubaldo’s page, click on the PitchFx tab, and then choose velocity charts.

    The same thing has happened to Lincecum too and it didn’t hurt him.