Baseball BeatJuly 25, 2008
All the Right Stuff
By Rich Lederer

Which major league pitcher do you suppose has the following rankings among all starters this year?

  • Avg Fastball Velocity: 3rd (94.6 mph)
  • Groundball Rate: 4th (57.4%)
  • Line Drive Rate: 8th (16.3%)
  • HR/9: 7th (0.56)

    No, it's not Felix Hernandez. But I can understand why you would think that. King Felix ranks 1st in fastball velocity (94.9), 13th in GB rate (50.9%), 28th in LD rate (18.8%), and 15th in HR/9 (0.65).

    In any event, this pitcher's last name also ends in a "z." OK, suspense time is over. It's none other than Ubaldo Jimenez.

    Jimenez and Hernandez have the same basic repertoire of pitches: fastball, slider, curve, and changeup. Both of them throw extremely hard. Jimenez relies on his heater a little bit more than Hernandez (71.0% of total pitches to 66.1%) but that could be a function of their home ballparks as the former's heavy fastball works relatively well at Coors Field.

    The 6-foot-4, 200-pound righthander leapt onto the national scene last fall when his Colorado Rockies beat virtually everybody down the stretch and in the postseason except the Boston Red Sox. He started three times in the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, fashioning a 2.25 ERA over 16 innings. That said, it feels as if the 24-year-old fireballer has flown under the radar screen for much of this season.

    Jimenez's numbers are actually a mixed bag. I guess that's what is so intriguing to me. He is tied for the MLB lead in starts (22) and has produced an ERA of less than 4.00 with an ERA+ of 116. But he has also allowed more walks (65) and wild pitches (14) than any pitcher in baseball.

    Strangely, the Dominican native has produced better results at home than on the road:

           IP      H    R   ER  HR   BB   SO   ERA    AVG   OBP   SLG
    Home   73.1   53   23   21   5   27   43   2.58  .204  .284  .300    
    Road   55.2   69   41   36   3   38   59   5.82  .305  .410  .420
    

    As shown, his ERA at Coors Field is less than half of his ERA on the road. By slicing and dicing the numbers a bit more, we learn that Jimenez has a BABIP at home of .224 and away of .402. Both are unsustainable. The former is too low and the latter is too high. A narrowing of the gap will result in less divergence in the home and road ERAs. Jimenez has actually struck out a much higher percentage of batters on the road (21.85%) than at home (14.68%). His away stats have been hurt by poor outings in Los Angeles on April 25 and Philadelphia on May 27.

    Of note, Jimenez has improved each and every month this season. All of his metrics have gotten progressively better as the year has unfolded.

            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
    

    While I hesitate to put too much stock into monthly trends, I'm more inclined to place some value on such progressions if the player in question is unusually young or old. In the case of Jimenez, the 2008 season is his first full year in the big leagues. As such, I believe there may be something said about paying closer attention to these trends as it is quite possible that he is learning on the job.

    Is his lack of control simply a function of his age? Well, that's the $64,000 question. Or, more personal to Jimenez, the tens of millions question. In his last 14 starts, Jimenez has "only" walked 37 in 88 1/3 innings pitched.

    It says here that if Jimenez can continue to harness his wildness and improve his command, he will become one of the best pitchers in the game. If not, he may end up as the second coming of Daniel Cabrera, another pitcher I had high hopes for just a few years back.