On Thursday I posted Andrew Fisher's thoughts on new Oriole Ubaldo Jimenez, next up is Jason Lukehart. Jason is the managing editor at SB Nation's Indians blog, Let's Go Tribe. Big thanks to Jason!
Jimenez looked very good to end last season, but he had two of his worst years, ERA-wise, with the Indians. What were his biggest issues when he wasn't pitching well, and going forward do you think he's likely to pitch well?
Ubaldo lost a lot of velocity between 2009/2010, when he was one of the best pitchers in baseball, and the trade deadline in 2011, when the Indians acquired him. I was aware of that at the time, and so I wasn't expecting brilliance, but for close to two years, he was a big disappointment for even my diminished expectations. His pitches seemed flat, and he got hit hard.
In 2012 his line-drive rate rose to 23.4%, among the worst in the league. His home run rate, which had been the best of any MLB starter from 2008-2010 (0.48 per 9 innings) spiked dramatically to 1.27. His strikeouts dropped and his walk rate climbed all the way to 4.84 per 9 innings. He clearly didn't have the same stuff he used to, and he hadn't figured out how to pitch with the stuff he did still have. In 31 starts he got through 7 innings just 5 times. It's hard to overstate how bad he was that year, and how frustrating he was to watch.
Early in 2013, he didn't see any better. His velocity had dropped a bit more, and same as before, he was walking a ton of guys and giving up a lot of home runs. By Memorial Day at Let's Go Tribe, we were talking about how nice it was that the Indians could just decline their end of a mutual $8-million option at the end of the season, and be done with him. His strikeout rate had rebounded, but it didn't make much of a difference, because even when the results were decent, he was throwing way too many pitches to stay in the game long, averaging barely more than 5 innings a start.
It's hard to say what clicked for him around the All-Star break. The Indians had a new pitching coach last year, Mickey Callaway, and between Ubaldo's turnaround and the resurrection of Scott Kazmir, some fans tend to think he might be a sorcerer. Whatever the explanation, in the second half, Jimenez pitched as well as anyone. His velocity wasn't any better, but his pitches seemed to move more, he was generating a lot more swinging strikes and getting ahead in the count far more often. Every facet of his game seemed improved.
I think he can sustain much of that going forward, because I think in part he learned how to pitch with what his arm can still give him, after fighting himself for nearly two years. On the other hand, he faced a lot of very weak lineups in the second half, which exaggerated the impact of whatever adjustments he'd finally made. I wouldn't hold my breath for another stretch like the one he finished 2013 on, but I think he can put up numbers close to those from his complete 2013.
What things did you look forward to when Jimenez pitched? What did you dread?
He got to be so bad in 2012, that it was hard to have much hope going into his starts. You knew he'd fall behind in the count and take forever to get through many innings. In 2013, I think a lot of Tribe fans were so snake-bit that it took a while to have any confidence in him, even after he turned things around. For me, it wasn't really until early September, his last five starts or so, that I began looking forward to his next game. When he took the ball in the final game of the regular season, and the team needing a win to secure home-field for the Wild Card Game, there was no one on the team I wanted on the mound more than Jimenez.
Did you want the Indians to re-sign him? If not, why not?
There was a faint hope at the start of the offseason that he'd accept the qualifying offer, in an effort to rebuild more value and go for a much bigger score in twelve months. Once he turned that down, and it seemed likely that he'd be able to get a deal for 4 or 5 years, I lost interest in having him back. I'm of the mind that few pitchers are worth the risk of that kind of commitment. Given that the Indians won 92 games last year and are looking for a return trip to the playoffs, I'd like to have him for 2014, but a 3-year deal is the longest I'd have felt comfortable with.
Do you have any personal stories about his personality, antics, things we wouldn't otherwise know, etc?
There were stories about him not getting along with teammates in Colorado, and during spring training in 2012 there was a pretty high-profile incident in which he hit former teammate Troy Tulowitzki with the first pitch of their first encounter, leading both benches to clear, and landing Jimenez a 5-game suspension. After that though, he kept a pretty low profile in Cleveland.
You can read more from Jason at Let's Go Tribe or find him on Twitter at @JasonLukehart