In 2014, Ubaldo Jimenez was the epitome of a "bust".
Despite earning $11.2M a season ago, Jimenez was consistently underwhelming to the point of being relegated to the bullpen. In his 22 starts in '14, Jimenez posted a shrieking 4.81 ERA and among pitchers with at least 120.0 IP, he led all of baseball with an astronomical 13.9 BB%. He couldn't throw strikes, couldn't limit damage and as a natural occurrence, failed to go deep into ballgames.
Entering Spring Training, it was apparent pitching coach Dave Wallace had one hell of a task, reviving Jimenez into a competent starter. Perhaps Jimenez's biggest issue, one certainly having plagued his career in recent years, were his mechanics.
The biggest reason for Jimenez's far-too-often self-destruction was his pitching arm flailing westward to a level trumping Lewis and Clark. Jimenez had developed the habit of breaking his hands rather unconventionally, and in order to compensate for the arm drag, his top half was forced downward with the rest of his delivery poorly utilized. Not only was his floundered Alex Wood impression ineffective, his arm lagging behind the rest of his body caused an arrhythmic approach to home plate.
The building blocks of pitching are eerily similar to hitting. Simple, compact and explosive. In 2014, Jimenez lacked all three fundamental necessities for success, and as a result, the Orioles and Jimenez were handed the ultimate Moneyball ultimatum: adapt or die.
In March, Buck Showalter made it known he was seeing advancements in Jimenez's evolving delivery.
"It's about consistent command. One of the things about last year and this year is that he doesn't get cuffed up a lot. It's not a matter of trusting stuff; it's just a matter of delivery and getting the ball where he needs to get the count in his favor."
And that's the mystery of Ubaldo Jimenez. The stuff is obviously there. The massive right-hand turn on his two seam fastball. The disappearing act of his splitter. It simply becomes a matter of throwing strikes. In 2015, Jimenez was far from perfect, but the augmentation of the $50M man was overtly profound.
To me, the difference in the Ubaldo's delivery from '14 to '15 is revolutionary. Noticeably, Jimenez is much taller, allowing him to use his 6'5 frame with more intensity. A crisper load with more leverage towards home plate is made possible because he drops his pitching arm is now directly behind his hip, substituting his awkward flail for an improved arm slot. Jimenez's right arm is no longer trying to catch up to the rest of his body, allowing for a denser delivery, boosting the likelihood of success.
A pitcher's arsenal is more or less how he is defined, but mechanics make the stuff come to life. Jimenez has battled through countless ruts, and now it seems he's found a rhythm to his mound presence. At the end of day it's a nice story, but none of this matters unless the numbers say it does. The byproduct coming from Jimenez's moment of clarity in 2015 was actually a year in which his statistics may not have correlated with a $12.2M price tag, but in Ubaldo terms, it wasn't as bad as you think.
Yes, the 4.11 ERA is still too high, but when looking at the rest of his game it's hard to ignore the baby steps. Jimenez's 8.6 BB% was actually the lowest of his career, while his groundball and flyball rates were at their best since 2009. As his frequency for flyballs lowered, the rate of home runs raised and one could say it was a bit unlucky. According to Jimenez's xFIP, which lowers a pitcher's HR/FB rate to 10.5%, his ERA would have been a respectable 3.83, which is more or less the pitcher Jimenez appeared to be in 2015.
The ability to throw strikes puts more pressure on the side of the hitter, which is what Ubaldo was able to accomplish this season. Jimenez forced the opposition to go out of the zone more often this season with less success compared to '14, and even better, he forced more swings with less contact than he did a year ago. Again, that all comes back to throwing strikes. Last year, hitters never respected Ubaldo to come over the plate with quality strikes, surrendering himself to the comfortability of the middle of the zone, or missing altogether. In 2015, Ubaldo and his refined mechanics did more pitching than throwing, and though the numbers aren't going to convince the masses he was an effective righty, he made strides.
Still, Jimenez, as his nature, was not the consistent presence the Orioles needed every fifth day. For Ubaldo, he was either on two ends of the spectrum. Really, really good or really, really bad.
|Ubaldo Jimenez 2015||ERA||BABIP||OPS||HR||WHIP|
As untouchable as he was on some nights, he turned into an Iron Mike on others. Fortunately, it's nice to know he has the capability of completely shutting down an offense on the occasion, but still, the Orioles couldn't afford the early exit they fell victim to for most of 2015 not just by Ubaldo, but the entire staff.
2015 may not have been the glorified breakout Orioles fans hoped for in Ubaldo, especially after posting a 2.81 first-half ERA, but Jimenez was not only dealing with the rigors of big-league batters, but in the back of his mind, he had to think about how he was going to deliver each of the 1,904 pitches he made this season. Pitching is hard enough, but attempting to completely restructure the way someone has thrown a baseball their entire life goes from a natural act to a forcibly unnatural movement, and that's a tweak that takes time.
As the repetitions follow, muscle memory should take over. Jimenez isn't a finished product and that leaves a sliver of hope that he can become a more trustworthy right-hander.
Overall, 2015 may not have "looked" up to par, but Ubaldo is slowly turning a corner.