Yesterday, in his first spring start, Ubaldo Jimenez was bad. Really bad. In case you missed it, he was pulled after allowing two singles, a triple, and three walks, while recording only one out. Odrisamer Despaigne allowed all three inherited runners to score, so Jimenez was tagged with 6 ER in only a third of an inning, good for a sparkling 162.00 ERA (and a WHIP of 18.00). Since we have little else to talk about, it's tempting to overreact and take this start as a sign that Jimenez is going to struggle this year. I'm not saying he won't - I'm optimistic about Jimenez this season (I have no evidence to back up why) but I certainly wouldn't be shocked if I was wrong. If he does bounce back to his 2014 self, though, this spring performance will have nothing to do with it. Remember the golden rule of spring training: The stats mean nothing.
In 2015, the player with the highest OPS (1.439) over at least 50 spring plate appearances was....Mike Trout. Damn it. That doesn't help this argument at all. But after him? That would be Mike Zunino, with a 1.313 OPS. The 24-year-old Zunino was supposed to break out last season for a Seattle team that was a trendy playoff pick. Instead, he hit .174/.230/.300 in 112 games and was one of the worst position players in all of baseball. Also up near the top of the list was Chase Utley, with a 1.357 OPS in slightly less than that 50-PA cutoff. He then hit for an impossibly bad .114/.198/.200 line in April, with an OPS (.398) that was actually lower than his spring batting average (.419). He picked up the pace a bit later on, but he still ended up having an absolutely horrid year at the plate.
On the pitching side, the most dominant pitcher of the spring was Taijuan Walker, with a 0.36 ERA in 25 innings. The promising Walker went out and had an extremely mediocre year, posting a 4.56 ERA in 29 starts. On the other end of the spectrum, one of the worst was the newest Oriole, Yovani Gallardo. He had a 10.13 ERA and a 2.03 WHIP, then had arguably the best year of his career for the Rangers.
There's Justin Verlander's 20 shutout spring innings in 2014 followed by his worst season in seven years. There's Jose Quintana's league-worst 16.36 spring ERA that same year followed by an excellent, all-star caliber campaign. The list goes on and on, but you get the point.
None of us know what Ubaldo's plan was for yesterday. For a guy who's a lock to make the team, there's no reason to go out there and try to win the game if he feels it would better serve him to practice something specific. He could have been trying to work on one particular pitch, or hitting one particular location, or changing something in his mechanics to see how it feels.
In case all of this sounds a little familiar, it's because it happened last year. Jimenez's first spring start in 2015: six runs, two walks and two hit batsmen in 1.1 innings. He said he felt good afterwards, and a lot of us laughed. All he did after that was pitch like an ace for the first half of the season, with a 2.81 ERA (3.27 FIP) in just under 100 innings. Yes, he struggled in the second half, but he still finished with a solid 2.7 WAR season and the best FIP (4.01) of any Baltimore starter.
This isn't to say that Ubaldo will be great his year. Maybe he pitches like he did the first half of last year and becomes the staff ace, or maybe he loses his control and gets yanked from the rotation with a 5.50 ERA. Regardless of what happens, the important thing to keep in mind is that we don't know any more today than we did two days ago. If Hyun-Soo Kim bats .100 this month, don't get too down on him. If Dylan Bundy pitches to a 1.50 ERA, don't get too excited. Remember, it's only spring training.
Update: Now we do know what Jimenez was working on. An ESPN article just dropped that quotes Matt Wieters as saying Jimenez didn't want to throw any sliders or splitters, two of his best pitches. He wanted to focus on his changeup and curve, two of his worst pitches. Two of the three hits yesterday were off of changeups.