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Putting a Finger on Ubaldo Jimenez

Putting a Finger on Ubaldo Jimenez

| On 04, Jul 2013

Thursday afternoon the Indians will face off against division rival Kansas City Royals. The Tribe will send Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound to try and keep momentum heading into the all-important Tiger series this weekend.

In seasons past, relying on Jimenez would make most fans balk, but this season he has turned things around a bit. He has definitely had his bad moments, but he has looked brilliant at times as well. Jimenez has now gone seven straight starts without allowing more than three earned runs, and we all home this afternoon will make eight. He clearly looks like a different pitcher from last season, but it is not as easy to explain why. The only way to find the clues is to dig deep into the numbers.

Jimenez really only pitched three horrible games on the season. On April 8 the Indians hosted the Yankees and Jimenez took the hill for the Tribe. He pitched 4.1 innings giving up seven runs on seven hits and three walks. The Indians lost the game 11-6 and Jimenez seemed like he was on track for another train wreck of a season. His very next start seemed to confirm the worst. He managed to pitch only 1.2 innings against the Red Sox, giving up seven runs on two hits and five walks. His ERA ballooned to 11.25 on the season and this looked very bleak. His only other poor start on the season came on May 22 against the Tigers. He again gave up only six runs this time out and gave up seven hits and three walks in four innings. The Indians, as one would assume, lost all three starts. Those were the only really poor starts on the season. He did give up four runs in five innings against the Astros in April, but he only gave up four hits and one walk and he struck out four. That was not a good start by any means, but I would not classify that as a very poor start.

Besides the four games mentions, Jimenez has made 13 starts without giving up more than three runs, and in eleven of those starts he gave up two runs or less. If his three horrible games are removed from his season, his stats look like this: 6-1 record, 73.2 innings, 62 hits, 23 earned runs, 33 walks, 77 strikeouts, 2.81 era. That is an All-Star season, a good strikeout to walk ration, and everything you would want in an ace. Something is clearly different in Jimenez form this season to last, but putting a finger on it is not as easy.

His defense isn’t playing that much better behind him that it did last season. Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is a stat that measures a batting average that a pitcher allows on every ball that is put in play except home runs. It’s sort of self-explanatory, but it basically eliminates the pitcher’s strikeouts, walks, and home runs, and can show how influential a pitcher’s defense has been in helping prevent runs. A BABIP between .290-.310 is about league average. If a pitcher has a BABIP over .310, this can indicate that the defense is not making plays behind the pitcher, whether that is because of range or other factors. A BABIP less than .290 can mean that the defense is helping the pitcher out a great deal by making more plays than usual. In 2012, Jimenez gave up a BABIP of .309, in 2013, his BABIP is .299. Both of those numbers fall in the average range, so the defense really has not changed all that much from one season to the next in terms of Jimenez’s starts.

Looking at his numbers across the board, not a whole lot looks different in his approach. His stats are better, but there isn’t much too clearly show why, and that is what we are after, an explanation. His release points are not that much different, his velocity is roughly the same if very slightly slower. Something must have changed.

The only area of clear difference in Jimenez’s pitching from 2012 to 2013 is the type of pitches he is throwing. In 2012, Jimenez threw his four-seam fastball 31% of the time. He threw his sinker 26.9% of the time, and his slider 16.2% of the time. His splitter was thrown 12.7%, and his curve and changeup less than 10%. Looking at those same pitches in 2013, there is a very clear difference. His four-seam fastball is no longer his most used pitch; he throws it 23.5% of the time as opposed to his sinker at 29.3%. His sinker is now being used more than any other pitch. His slider has seen a very large increase, actually surpassing his four-seam fastball at a rate of 23.8%. This use of his sinker and slider seems to be playing a big role in his success. His splitter has been up to 18.8%, and he now almost never throws his curveball or changeup.

His pitch selection seems to be the key. Hitters hit groundballs more than 50% of the time against his slider, and his sinker. His slider is only put in play 8% of the time, and gives up a home run only 0.26% of the time. Hitters bat only .207 against it. That is the only clear difference from this year to last. The change is most likely due to the game plan of Francona and Callaway, and if that’s the case, hats off to them. They have done what many have tried and failed to do, pull success out of Ubaldo Jimenez.

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images