SP Ubaldo Jimenez is a diminished pitcher, and nothing his current resurgence can do to correct this.
But at least he hasn’t been as bad as he was from 2011 to 2012, a time of great flux for the formerly hard throwing sinkerball pitcher who once led the league in average velocity over a five-season span.
Jimenez stopped throwing strikes, not that he knew exactly where his pitches were going to begin with. In its place came walks. Where he usually induced ground balls, at a 50 plus percent rate, especially in Colorado, he served up fly balls. For the first time in his career — in 2012, his first full season in Cleveland — he allowed more home runs per nine innings than almost the entire sum of his K/9 averages from years past.
His drop in velocity and inability to control his pitches led the pitching starved Colorado Rockies to trade a guy then viewed as their ace, even though he was signed through a reasonable deal.
And some thought the Indians were insane, though we instantly talked ourselves out of that because hey, change of scenery right? Without having to pitch in a stadium that sandbags pitchers, Jimenez would recover his lost brilliance.
The Indians justified the trade, saying they’ve identified something in his motion that’s compounding his troubles. It’s a mechanical flaw the team can fix. But more than controlling the strike zone, the Indians thought they could get the lost velocity back.
Last season was Jimenez’s worst season. He had career lows in strikeouts per nine innings, and had a galling 4.00 plus walks per nine that looks even worst with a plus 1.00 HR/9 rates.
His velocity was at its lowest point, about 91 mph, and instead of inducing ground balls, he was leaving pitches high enough to be driven out. That’s never good news for a guy who relies on velocity to induce swinging misses, and seeing as he’s too far gone to polish his mechanics, it’s reasonable to expect his success to come with a reloaded fastball.
None of those happened, and yet Jimenez has been better, despite his ugly peripherals suggest.
It may seem strange to bag on a guy who struck out nine hitters over five innings Friday
I’m not. The fact that Jimenez has come back at all is a credit to him and the Indians.
This isn’t the Jimenez of yore, however.
Jimenez definitely looks better this year, and the rest of his season could end up with a 4.00 plus ERA / 105 adjusted OPS. He’ll slightly be better if he can keep his pitches down. He slightly has better control of his pitches, and he can pile up strikeouts, especially against weaker lineups like the Marlins. If he can keep his 8 plus K/9 rates throughout the season, he’ll be a useful mid-rotation starter, if not entirely consistent.
Here’s the thing. Jimenez’s velocity continues to dip. His fastball value, though much higher than last season’s, is still in the negative. Meanwhile, he’s compensated by throwing his slider more often, but just slightly more compared to last season’s. As per Pitch/Fx, it’s his best pitch.
Friday’s successful start illustrates the best Jimenez has to offer: high number of strikeouts, some runs allowed and below average walk rates that lead to high pitch counts. He lasted five innings before handing the rest of the game to the ‘pen.