Jimenez Chasing the Wrong Kind of History
By Bob Toth
Ubaldo Jimenez finds himself in the precarious spot of chasing his personal claim to an undesirable place amongst pitchers in Cleveland Indians’ history.
As his season has progressed from bad to worse, with few glimpses of hope along the way, Indians’ fans have watched their hopes crash into the closed window of opportunity. Jimenez has continued to struggle, and some of his statistics may go down among the worst in any single season for a pitcher who has donned a Cleveland uniform in the club’s 112-year history.
Jimenez certainly is not the only person in the Indians’ organization responsible for the failure that has been the 2012 season. He, though, is not without blame.
Just 13 months ago, Jimenez was acquired from the Colorado Rockies in what most fans found to be a surprising and uncharacteristic blockbuster move for the team. The Indians parted with Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, two of the top pitching prospects in their farm system, along with minor league outfielder/first baseman Matt McBride and pitcher Joe Gardner.
Jimenez was thought to be the final needed piece for the playoff puzzle – a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher who could give the Indians a hard-throwing threat to push them over the top in the race for the American League Central Division.
Instead, Jimenez has done an extremely poor job of transitioning into the American League. In 138 games in the National League with the Rockies, he had a 56-45 career record (.554 win-loss percentage) along with a 3.66 ERA and a no-hitter. He won 19 games in 2010 and made the All-Star team in addition to being third in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award. He averaged 8.2 strikeouts, 3.9 walks, and 7.6 hits per nine innings.
In 40 games as an Indian, he is 13-20 (.394) with an ERA of 5.40. In his final eleven starts in 2011 after being acquired by Cleveland, he went 4-4. All four of his wins came in games in which he allowed two earned runs or less. Pitch count always seemed to be an issue, as he lasted seven innings or more in just four of these starts.
In 29 starts so far in the 2012 season, he has had just five starts of seven innings or more and has averaged just 5.7 innings per start. Despite getting a career-low 4.0 runs of support per start, his ERA is at a career-high of 5.52 and is third-worst amongst qualified pitchers in all of baseball.
Control and inconsistency again seems to be plaguing the Indians’ right-hander. He has matched a career-high of 16 wild pitches this year, which leads all of baseball and trails the all-time team record of 18, set by Otto Hess in 1905 and tied by Sam McDowell in 1967. He is averaging more than 1.6 walks and hits per inning. His strikeout numbers have decreased by a full strikeout versus last season. He is allowing home runs at twice the pace he had with Colorado.
At 9-16 on the season, he is having the worst season of his major league career, both in regards to his winning percentage and ERA. Including Sunday’s expected start, he has four starts remaining in the 2012 campaign before the team has to make any decisions on his club option for the 2013 season.
In his first full season in Cleveland, Jimenez has staked himself a place amongst some of the worst seasons in the history of the Indians. With his MLB-leading 16th loss last Tuesday, he became just the 32nd pitcher in the club’s 112 years to lose 16 games or more in a season, and the last to reach that feat since left-hander Greg Swindell lost 16 games back in 1991.
Unlike his predecessors, Jimenez is losing with a flair the club has not quite seen before. He has been awful on the road, posting a 4-11 record with a 6.95 ERA while averaging nearly one inning less of work per game. He is 1-9 in the second half of the season with a 7.13 ERA. In his 16 losses, he has an 8.23 ERA.
He leads the American League in stolen bases allowed with 30. He has given up 25 home runs on the season. The 99 runs batted in allowed is just second to teammate Justin Masterson, who too is struggling with an unpleasant 11-14 season. Jimenez is third in baseball in on-base percentage allowed and is allowing the opposition to bat .272 off of him.
Previous Indians’ starters who have reached 16 losses with the club have done so with much more grace and poise, or so it has seemed.
In 1991, Swindell was in his sixth year with the Indians and made 33 starts on the season. He was amongst the league leaders in hits allowed (241), but with only 31 walks given up on the season, he led the American League with just 1.17 bases on balls per nine innings. With 5.45 strikeouts per walk, he was almost one full strikeout better than Scott Sanderson’s 4.48 for the New York Yankees. He gave the Indians a veteran presence on a young team. He was tied for ninth in the majors with 238 innings pitched and seven complete games. His ERA was a very respectable 3.48, but he got just 3.4 runs of support per start, the worst of his 12-year major league career. The Indians that season would finish 57-102 and in last place in the AL East.
Pitcher Dick Tidrow went 14-16 for the Tribe in 1973 with a 4.42 ERA. He did so with a 71-91 Indians’ team. He appeared in 42 games, starting 40. He threw 274 2/3 innings and pitched 13 complete games while being the number two pitcher on the team behind Gaylord Perry, who was 19-19 in 41 starts of his own that season.
One year prior, Perry lost 16 games for an Indians’ club that went 72-84. The difference between Perry, Swindell, Tidrow, and Jimenez was that Perry also won 24 games and the AL Cy Young Award in that first season with the Indians. He had a career-best 1.92 ERA, made 41 appearances, had 29 complete games, and struck out 234 batters. He pitched 342 2/3 innings on the year in what obviously was a different era of baseball as compared to the current one that is so conscious of pitch counts.
Gary Bell (1961; 12-16, 4.10 ERA), Willis Hudlin (1930; 13-16, 4.57), Stan Coveleski (1924; 15-16, 4.04), George Uhle (1922; 22-16, 4.07 & 1923; 26-16, 3.77), Jim Bagby (1918; 17-16, 2.69), and Glenn Liebhardt (1908; 15-16, 2.20) also lost 16 games in a season for the Indians at one point in their careers.
Jimenez will lose a minimum of 16 games, with fewer starts than all who preceded him to do so except Swindell, and with a significantly worse ERA than all of these starters.
He has a chance to post the most losses in the big leagues in years. Seventeen losses was the magic number last season (Derek Lowe, Jeremy Guthrie), in 2010 (Joe Saunders), in 2009 (Guthrie), and in 2008 (Barry Zito, Aaron Harang, Justin Verlander). Eighteen led baseball in 2007 (Daniel Cabrera), 2006 (Rodrigo Lopez), and 2005 (Kip Wells).
Luckily for Jimenez (and Indians’ fans), the team’s all-time record for losses in a season will remain unscathed. In the organization’s first year of existence in 1901, then as the Cleveland Blues, Pete Dowling lost 22 games. He went 11-22 after being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers and was 12-25 overall on the season. He had a 3.86 ERA and made 33 appearances for the Blues in what would be the final season of his four-year major league career.
The only other pitcher in Indians’ history to even reach the 20-loss plateau was Luis Tiant, who lost an even 20 games in 1969. Tiant, in his sixth and final season for the Tribe, posted a stunning 9-20 record with a 3.71 ERA to follow a 1968 season where he finished 21-9 with a 1.60 ERA. Control seemed to be Tiant’s undoing, as his 1969 strikeout total dropped over 100 strikeouts from his 1968 performance. He walked 129 batters, the lone time in his 19-year major league career he would topple the century mark in that stat. He allowed a league-worst 37 home runs.
Still ahead of him for the time being on the all-time list in a tie for third-worst loss total with 19 are Rick Wise (1978), Wayne Garland (1977), Gaylord Perry (1973), Al Milnar (1941), and George Kahler. Tom Candiotti (1987) and Earl Moore (1902) each lost 18. Eleven other pitchers have combined to post 12 total seasons with 17 losses.
With four games still tentatively on his slate, Jimenez could theoretically achieve the 20-loss “milestone” if he were to be the pitcher of record in each of his appearances. The last major leaguer to reach that mark was Mike Maroth of Detroit in 2003, when he finished his rookie season 9-21. His teammate and fellow rookie, Jeremy Bonderman (6-19), may have suffered the same fate had he not been moved into the bullpen for the majority of September that season.
With such high hopes for this Indians’ team at the start of the season, it is difficult to accept the fact that the high-profile acquistion Jimenez lost so many games for the team on the season. However, looking at the statistics and acknowledging his place amongst the worst single seasons by a Cleveland starter may bring solace to some fans who could swear that his inconsistent control, short outings, and frequent wildness felt like some of the worst efforts they had ever seen in an Indians’ uniform.
A positive effort from Jimenez over the last few weeks of the season may not affect whether the team picks up his $5.75 M option for the 2013 season because durable and affordable starting pitchers are hard to find. It could, however, change just how far he sinks into the depths of the worst seasons Cleveland fans have ever endured from one of their “ace” pitchers.
Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sancya