Ubaldo Jimenez has been a big disappointment on an extremely disappointing (and at sometimes just bad) Cleveland Indians squad. He has not been very good and for a lot of this year had as many walks as strikeouts. Ubaldo leads the league in wild pitches and his strikeout rate is the lowest it has been in his career and his GB/FB is lower than it has been since 2006, his first stint (a short one) in the Majors. His SIERA is over a full run over what it was from 2009-2011.
How can a guy with a fastball that moves and gets up to 95-96 MPH be struggling so much? Perhaps more accurately, how can a guy who dominated for a couple of seasons at Coors Field (!) be where he is right now?
When you are talking about Jimenez, you always have to mention his wonky mechanics. While comparisons like this are usually more deceptive than helpful, one cannot help but think about Dontrelle Willis. Obviously Willis threw left-handed while Jimenez throws right-handed, but it seems that the thing that one of the things that made them so awesome was the thing that brought them down. Part of what made Willis so good (other than his good stuff, velocity, etc.) was his deceptive delivery. However, he suddenly wasn’t able to repeat it consistently and became a disaster on the mound (leading to his retirement this season). One of the reasons Jimenez was so good with Colorado was his ability to hide the ball for longer than a normal pitcher. Now, he is having all kinds of control problems and most point to his delivery being one of the main reasons why. In fact, his release point has changed/become more inconsistent this year:
Against Texas on Friday night, Jimenez actually threw a pretty good game (7/3 K/BB in 5.2 innings, 2.22 FIP, and 3.25 xFIP). However, there were many moments that somewhat embodied Jimenez’ 2012 season. There were a few balls that were just hit really hard, especially a high 94 MPH fastball that was drilled for a line drive by Adrian Beltre.
Early in the game, Jimenez bounced an 86 MPH slider that allowed runners to advance (frankly, it wasn’t a very good block by Carlos Santana). He then threw a perfect 84 MPH slider to strikeout Nelson Cruz swinging. Some of the swings by David Murphy and Michael Young in that inning were just really ugly. I thought the 2nd inning was especially telling. He got the first two outs easily, but then couldn’t throw a strike to Mitch Moreland for some reason. Even at 3-1, he got down to 92 MPH, taking off something in an effort to control it better. It didn’t work. Even more bizarre, he followed this by striking out Ian Kinsler with a breaking ball he threw for a strike.
Strangely, it seemed that the fastballs low in the zone were straight and the moving fastballs were the high ones. This is generally bad news (though not all the time), but I have no idea why this is the case. With no velocity change, it doesn’t look like he is gripping it differently, so it may have something to do with his mechanics. The taking off velocity when down (especially 3-1) was something I noticed he did frequently. It would make him more hittable one would think and it didn’t seem that taking off velocity actually made it easier for him to throw strikes. There is also the simple fact that his velocity was just inconsistent throughout the game. For whatever reason, he would be throwing 96 MPH one minute, then 92 MPH for a couple hitters. This inconsistency aside, his velocity has been dropping on average over the last few years:
While Fangraphs says he has dropped the sinker for the moving fastball and is now throwing a cutter, Brooks Baseball doesn’t make this differentiation. I didn’t see anything that looked like a cutter to me, so I will go with Brooks that he hasn’t changed his pitches. The velocity drop across the board on all of his pitches (many times pitchers breaking pitches will actually stay about the same even if their fastball drops) is most likely the reason for his drop in swings and misses. While still displaying the ability to get whiffs at times, the consistency just hasn’t been there.
If he was just wild and couldn’t throw strikes, then Ubaldo Jimenez wouldn’t be worth writing about. However, that isn’t really the case. There are times when he leaves hitters shaking their heads on the way to the bench. There are times that he is really really good. There are also times that he is really really terrible. This can all be in the same inning or even in the same at-bat. The inconsistency is not only maddening, it is confusing. Of course, it is not just the walks. He has simply been more hittable this year, with an extremely high line drive rate and a career high (and higher than league average) HR/FB %. This all speaks to diminished stuff. It appeared to me that he had quite a bit of movement on his pitches and as this graph shows, he hasn’t really lost any of that:
It all comes back to his velocity:
For whatever reason, most likely being unable to repeat his delivery, his velocity and ability to locate have tapered off significantly causing him to go from a pitcher that was at one time thought to be an elite pitcher to one of the worst full time starters in the Majors.
Next year, the Indians have a 5.75 million dollar team option for Jimenez. Even though this isn’t a lot of money considering what Jimenez has done in the past, there is a good chance that the Indians pay him the 1 million dollar buyout to go away. I would be shocked if they don’t do this. This makes Jimenez an interesting possible free agent in the off-season.