The only thing consistent with Ubaldo Jimenez is that he’s consistently inconsistent. Ubaldo had the best season of his career in 2010 when he won 19 games with a 2.88 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 214 strikeouts, fantasy owners everywhere thought he cracked the code to pitching in Coors field and he looked like a guy ready to dominate MLB for the next decade.
The 2011 and 2012 seasons couldn’t have been any different from 2010, though. In that two year stretch, Ubaldo put together a 5.03 ERA to go with a 1.50 WHIP and 323 strikeouts over 365 innings, losing all equity he gained with fantasy owners in 2010.
Last season, Jimenez went through a revival. In 32 starts for the Cleveland Indians he had a 3.30 ERA, a 1.33 WHIP and 194 strikeouts. Heading into 2014, fantasy owners began to buy back into Jimenez’s stock. Ubaldo was the 69th starting pitcher selected according to ESPN’s average draft position and he was taken ahead of guys like Rick Porcello, Kyle Lohse, Tim Hudson, Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber and Jose Quintana.
Well, what was it I said above? Jimenez is consistently inconsistent, right? Owners who invested a draft pick in Ubaldo were rewarded with zero wins, a 6.59 ERA and a 1.83 WHIP through the month of April.
If you drafted Ubaldo, chances are that by the end of April you wanted nothing to do with him and you banished him to your league’s free agent pool. If you did that (I personally would have cut him half way through April if I needed a roster spot) you then missed out on his three May starts in which he has two wins to go with a 0.46 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and 20 strikeouts over 19.2 innings. Maddening.
So, what should we expect from Ubaldo going forward? Is he safe to pick back up again? Or should owners avoid him like the plague?
To put it simply, Ubaldo Jimenez is a pitcher I want nothing to do with. I think what we’ve seen from Ubaldo over the past few years is exactly who he is: wildly inconsistent. Sure, there are going to be starts here and there like his start last week against the Detroit Tigers (even in his disastrous 2012 season he pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer runs in nine of his 31 starts) but there will be even more starts that will go just like all of his starts in April. There are a few warning signs with Ubaldo that scare the heck out of me.
First: Ubaldo might be the most generous pitcher in all of baseball when it comes to handing out free passes. Ubaldo has a 4.21 BB/9 this season and that’s the seventh worst rate among starting pitchers this season; his career 4.05 rate would be the 10th highest this season.
Second: His velocity has fallen off of a cliff. For his career, Ubaldo has averaged 94.6 MPH on his four-seam fastball. His velocity peaked in 2010 at 96 MPH and it has decreased every season since. This season he’s throwing his fastball at just 90.4 MPH.
Third: Hitters are absolutely destroying his slider. 22 percent of Ubaldo’s pitches this season have been sliders (his four-seam fastball is the only pitch he’s throwing more frequently) and hitters are absolutely teeing off on it.
For his career, hitters are hitting just .202 against Ubaldo’s slider with a .116 ISO and a .584 OPS. This season, hitters are hitting a whopping .395 against that same slider with a .211 ISO and a 1.016 OPS. For his career, opposing hitters have had an 11.6 percent swinging strike rate and a 69.2 percent contact rate against the slider, his swinging strike rate has fallen to just 8.1 percent (career low) in 2014 and hitters have a 79.7 percent contact rate (career high) against the pitch.
Take a look at these two graphs below.
Both of these graphs show the trajectory of Ubaldo’s slider as it goes from the mound to the plate; the first graph is from his 2010 season (the best season of his career) and the second one is from this year. Just observe the difference in trajectories. Ubaldo’s slider in 2010 broke sharply as it got to the plate and the pitch would frequently land right on the outside edge or just off the left side of the plate. This season, the pitch isn’t breaking nearly as sharply and it’s frequently landing just off the center of the plate. Ubaldo is teeing his slider up for opposing hitters this season, and they’re making him pay for it.
Fourth: Ubaldo has pitched significantly worse in Camden Yards so far this season than he has on the road. He has a 4.81 ERA and a 4.46 xFIP at home this season compared to a 3.18 ERA and a 3.67 xFIP on the road this season. It’s never good when a pitcher struggles in their home park, after all, they do have to play half of their games in it.
I am staying as far away from Ubaldo Jimenez as I can. I don’t own him in a single league and I have no intentions on seeking him out. Like I said above, Ubaldo will certainly have some more outings this season that resemble his dominant May 13 start against the Tigers; he’ll have twice as many starts though that resemble every start he had this April.
I see Ubaldo finishing the year with an ERA in the low-mid 4′s and a WHIP north of 1.40… unless you’re in an extremely deep league there’s just no room for numbers like that on your virtual roster.