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Breaking down Ubaldo's First Start

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Ubaldo Jimenez struggled mightily in 2014 and has worked hard to regain his $50 million form, his first start in 2015 showed why the Orioles gave him the largest free agent pitcher contract in team history.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The struggles of Ubaldo Jimenez in the first year of his 4 year $50 million contract are well documented. His 13.9 percent BB rate led the majors as he posted the 5th highest walk total at 77 walks even though he only pitched 125.1 innings. Which of course led to Jimenez posting a 4.81 ERA and losing his job in the starting rotation. The work he has done so far this off season, and some going back into 2014, has been well documented. He has worked to calm down his funky delivery. The Orioles even hired Ramon Martinez in part to work with Jimenez and be his own personal coach as the team attempts a reclamation on their long term investment.

Well, Saturday was the glimpse into the talent the front office and the fans had been looking for. Jimenez worked seven innings, struck out eight, walked one, and gave up one hit. Almost as impressive, he recorded eleven of his outs on the ground. The Blue Jays simply could not square up his pitches in any meaningful way. The start was as close to domination as most pitchers can get. He was able to do this by getting ahead of hitters and allowing the great movement on his pitches to yield successful results.

Pitch Type Raw Count Usage % Strike % Foul % Whiff %
Fourseam 9 9.47% 33.33% 0.0% 11.11%
Sinker 54 56.84% 37.04% 16.67% 9.26%
Splitter 14 14.74% 50.00% 0.0% 28.57%
Slider 14 14.74% 21.43% 14.29% 0.0%
Curveball 4 4.21% 50.0% 0.0% 0.0%

The above table is PitchF/x data available at brooksbaseball.net. As you can see in the table, Jimenez used his sinker to great effect last night. He was able to get a strike either called, fouled off, or swung on and missed on nearly 70% of his sinkers. This allowed him to use his fantastic split fingered pitch which batters whiffed on at a rate of 28.57 percent. A fantastic mix of pitches as he worked the fastball/sinker early on and worked the breaking pitches in late. The graph below really shows how Jimenez was able to work his fastball/sinker early and his breaking balls late.

Ubaldo
In the fleeting moments Jimenez was good last year, he was able to get strikes with his fastball/sinker and whiffs with his splitter. That is the way he gets batters out. He recorded eight strikeouts on Saturday night: three with the splitter and five with his fastball/sinker. Four of the five with his fastball/sinker were strikeouts looking. By getting ahead in the count his splitter becomes a pitch he can get swings and misses with. A splitter on a 1-2 count is a completely different pitch than on a 3-1 count. When he has the splitter working and the fastball/sinker going for strikes he can catch guys looking on his sinker as it tails onto the corners. Meanwhile, his curveball and slider provide different looks and as he moved into the lineup the second and third times he worked his curveball early in counts and used his slider to give the hitter something else to think about.

Jimenez cannot be expected to replicate these results every time, that would be asking way too much. Furthermore, one start is merely one start. Jimenez was good last year in some one game sample sizes. However, early on, good results are always better than bad results. He has worked on himself very hard and has never publicly griped about his role on the team. All you can ask of player is that they try to get better. As I said on the season preview Camdencast, Jimenez has the talent to be one of the better pitchers on the roster and if he can control his stuff as he did on Saturday, he will be a huge boon to the Orioles rotation.