Why I think Ubaldo Jimenez is going to have a good season - seriously, I do - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Why I think Ubaldo Jimenez is going to have a good season — seriously, I do

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

This is one of those pieces that, if you don’t read me on a regular basis, you’d think it was being published simply for attention purposes.

But I try not to work that way. Try being the operative word.

I write what I believe. And then I take it on the chin when my belief is wrong. I take it on the chin a fair amount.

Here’s what I believe today: Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who makes his 2017 debut tonight against the New York Yankees, is going to have a good year for the Orioles. I believe he’s going to have the best season he has had in his four years in Baltimore.

OK, that bar isn’t high.

Here are Jimenez’s numbers in his first three years with the Orioles:

2014: 6-9, 4.81 ERA, 1.516 WHIP, 25 games, 22 starts.

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2015: 12-10, 4.11 ERA, 1.359 WHIP, 32 games, 32 starts.

2016: 8-12, 5.44 ERA, 1.560 WHIP, 29 games, 25 starts.

Yeah, not particularly inspiring. Especially not for a four-year, $50 million deal, the largest ever given out by the Orioles to a free-agent pitcher.

Executive vice president Dan Duquette had to convince club owner Peter Angelos back in 2014 to agree to four years for a starter, something the owner had always felt was a bad investment given the mercurial/fragile nature of pitchers (frankly, there’s a whole lot of evidence to back up Angelos’ theory on this one, and Jimenez could be used as Exhibit A).

Jimenez was bad for most of 2014, and was left off the ALCS roster. He had his moments – but wasn’t consistent – in 2015, and then turned in an absolutely awful first half last year.

He lost his spot in the rotation in 2016 and the Ubaldo Pitchfork Mob was clamoring for him to be released, even though the Orioles owed him roughly $20 million-plus through 2017. My argument then was that the team had to pick its spots for Jimenez, because his ability to iron out his mechanics and go on a solid run was possible – and the last thing you wanted was for him to figure things out for another team on the Orioles’ dime.

Well, the Orioles didn’t release him and he did figure it out, and helped lead the club to the 2016 playoffs. Because Jimenez gave up the game-ending home run to the Toronto Blue Jays in last year’s AL Wild Card contest, however, I think a lot of people forgot how good he was down the stretch. Or maybe fans have been so beaten down by Jimenez’s many disasters that they still don’t comprehend what happened toward the end of the 2016 season.

Let me refresh you with Jimenez’s numbers by month during the last regular season:

April: 1-2, 3.91 ERA, 1.565 WHIP, four games, four starts.

May: 1-4, 8.28 ERA, 2.114 WHIP, six games, six starts.

June: 3-1, 7.23 ERA, 1.986 WHIP, six games, five starts.

July: 0-2, 10.13 ERA, 2.258 WHIP, three games, three starts.

August: 0-2, 3.92 ERA, 1.161 WHIP, six games, two starts.

September: 3-1, 2.31 ERA, 0.829 WHIP, five games, five starts.

This is the frustration that is Jimenez. You know he has the ability to be a competent — even above-average – major league pitcher.

But that’s only if he is repeating his mechanics and can present deception in his windup. When he’s on, hitters have trouble picking up Jimenez’s pitches until it’s too late.

When his funky delivery is out of sync, though, watch out. He has trouble throwing strikes, he loses all deception, hitters wait on straight fastballs and hammer them.

And those results are frightening.

So, given that inconsistency, why would I stake my shaky reputation on Jimenez having a solid 2017?

For one, his second half last year – 3-3, 2.82 ERA in 12 games, eight starts – was more than solid.

Secondly, Jimenez, who will make $13.5 million this year, seems to be in a good place mentally. On the personal end, he was married in the 2015-16 offseason and his wife gave birth to a baby girl last year. He seems ultra-focused, and he’s always been exceptionally positive and upbeat – how, I don’t know.

Also, this is a contract year for him. Players react differently in their walk years. Some can’t handle it; we all remember the implosion that was Bud Norris in 2015. Well, the last time Jimenez was in a contract year, 2013, he was 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA in Cleveland, including a 1.82 ERA in his 13, second-half starts that season.

He’s 33 now, but he keeps himself in tremendous shape, always working out, always running or biking on off days, and he’s remained healthy and durable for most of his career.

Jimenez’s spring wasn’t particularly encouraging – 5.94 ERA in 16 2/3 innings – but in at least one of his outings he was the victim of some bad luck/defense.

The bottom line is this: There are reasons to think Jimenez could have a good year: last year’s second half, walk-year experience, stout defense behind him.

And there are probably more reasons why he won’t, with the big one being his overall track record in Baltimore.

I just have a feeling that Jimenez has more good days than bad ones in 2017, and that could mean double-digit wins, an ERA at 4.00 or lower and another solid contract somewhere else.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    April 7, 2017 at 8:02 am

    I’m with you Dan! (at least until he walks 2 in one inning then I become the proverbial rat on the ship).
    In all seriousness though, I have no problem with they guy. He can eat some innings. He’s standup and seemingly does whatever the team asks of him while not whining about it. He does have value, although that value may not match his contract. But then again, I don’t sign the checks. Count me as one Ubaldo supporter. (at least until he walks 2 in one inning )

    • Dan Connolly

      April 7, 2017 at 8:22 am

      The contract will always be the thing with him, Boog. And I get that. And I understand the fan base’s frustration. But if he just duplicated his 2015: 12-10, 4.11 ERA in 32 starts this year, that would go a long way to helping this club get to the postseason.

  2. Stacey

    April 7, 2017 at 8:22 am

    I believe Ubaldo can put together stretches of competence (or even better) but that won’t stop me from being a little nervous every time it’s his turn to pitch. I do hope that you’re right about him this year, not only for the Orioles’ sake but for his. He is a very easy guy to root for.

    • Dan Connolly

      April 7, 2017 at 8:26 am

      He really is. I might respect him as much as anyone I’ve covered. I mean, this guy has been booed repeatedly in his own ballpark (understandably at times) and he never snaps at the crowd, never snaps at reporters. He just says he knows he has to pitch better. And he never stops working. His teammates love the guy. All that said, yeah, never a calm evening when he takes the mound.

  3. karks

    April 7, 2017 at 9:54 am

    Dan, I hope you’re right! Despite the crazy inconsistencies, he’s an easy guy to root for. You can tell how much he really cares and he works hard at it. To some degree, you wonder if he is someone who can also benefit from the “try easier” philosophy.

    • Dan Connolly

      April 7, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      Yeah. He definitely tries hard. But more than anything is it just is so difficult to repeat that delivery when there are so many moving parts. And simplifying it has never really worked.

  4. ubetonit

    April 7, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Don’t hold your rosary beads that tight when you write about Ubaldo, Dan

    • Dan Connolly

      April 7, 2017 at 12:30 pm

      Hahahaha. Ya know, he is also a really religious guy. So maybe his rosary beads will work.

  5. kborioles

    April 7, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I’m cautiously optimistic about Ubaldo this year too. Expecting the usual couple months up, couple months down.

    Interestingly, Fangraphs calculates the $ value of a player’s seasons using a formula where 1 WAR is worth about 8 million dollars. Based on that, Jimenez has basically played exactly to the worth of his contract. He’s been worth $37.4M in 3 years (21.1 in 2015 alone!) and has actually only made $36.4M so far. Obviously hasn’t lived up to expectations, but I don’t think the contract’s been a complete bust either.

  6. claudecat

    April 7, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    I’m an Ubaldo supporter, even if he doesn’t reward that often enough. Likable guy, works hard, yada yada yada. And while I was as aghast as anyone (everyone?) when Buck threw him to the wolves in that playoff game, I don’t feel quite as scared when he starts. At least there are innings left to catch up! He gives us 5 or more with fewer than 4 runs and that’ll count as an Ubaldo quality start in my eyes.

    As for the contract, you get what you pay for. $13-14M annually gets you a guy like this. We’d have been just as bad off with Ricky Nolasco or probably a few others that were in the running at the time the deal was made. You want a Scherzer or Price, you gotta shell out the Maserati dough, not the Hyundai Sonata payment booklet. At least Ubaldo’s been healthy the whole time, as much as that may have irked some fans. He’s a reliable vehicle, one that’s never gonna be comfortable in the fast lane, yet still prone to fender-benders.

  7. steveboothe12

    April 7, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    I attended 10 Grapefruit League games & agree that Jimenez trains himself hard. At a Bradenton game he started, after he came out of the game – he was doing extra arm/shoulder strengthening exercises. He’s a great team ambassador interacting with fans. My only ‘knock’ on him is he wraps his right hand behind his left calf during delivery & I believe this causes him to be Wild (or ‘deceptive’ as you suggest) in the delivery. I agree – he has his best Os season this year but don’t see him being resigned beyond 2017.

  8. pjbnyc

    April 7, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    You Baltimore fans are so nice! I’m a Cleveland Indians fan; the Tribe gave up a lot to get Ubaldo and got one good half season out of him. So while I like the O’s- and the fans and the ballpark, I would never want to be there a day Jimenez is starting. It is stunning the O’s paid so much for him, over so many years.

    Good game for the O’s and Ubaldo so far tonight.

  9. Bancells Moustache

    April 7, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Oh for God’s sake people…

  10. Kathyo

    April 7, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    Same old same old. No change.

  11. Jbigle1

    April 8, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    There’s no more solid contracts for Ubaldo Jimenez. We signed a power pitcher with questionable control and declining velocity to a long term deal. I’m sick of hearing what a good guy he is and how hard he works, he doesn’t have it. Most other MLB teams would’ve DFA’d him already. He belongs nowhere near a major league rotation, let him have 3 good weeks somewhere else and then watch him blow up for 2 months. He belongs on a non playoff contending team fighting for a long man 5th starter job until the prospects can fill in. But maybe that is overestimating what ubaldo can give you, he’s one of the few pitchers who can lose you a game by the 3rd inning and kill your bullpen.

  12. John in Cincy

    April 14, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Even after two poor starts, I’m with you, Dan, in believing he’s going to have an overall decent year. Of course, the debacle at Fenway isn’t very reassuring. I mean, it seems difficult to get spotted an early 9-0 lead & then not at least make it through the fifth to qualify for the win, but Ubaldo has a way of having spectacularly bad outings. This one falls into the “you can’t make this stuff up” category. At least he didn’t take the loss. (Crazy fun fact for UJ: So far, despite struggling with an ERA over 10.00 & a WHIP over 2.00, Ubaldo has yet to be saddled with a loss.)

    Still, I really don’t think he pitched quite as poorly as the Boston box score might indicate. His command was actually pretty good with a lot of pitches in or close to the strike zone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t consistently spot his fastball, meaning he couldn’t go to the splitter very often. So then it was simply a matter of the Red Sox hitters spoiling pitch after pitch — a skill in which they always seem to be very proficient — until they get ones they could put good swings on, which quickly ratcheted up his pitch count. It was death by a thousand cuts for Jimenez.

    Oddly, the pitch that was hit the hardest–Sadoval’s opposite field blast over the Monster — really wasn’t all that bad. It was tailing down and away out of the strike zone & Pablo just happened to go down and put a great swing on it.

    Poor Ubaldo. He’s saddled with the Hokey Pokey of deliveries ( you know, “you put your left foot in, you take your left foot out”). Whoever let him keep that growing up needs to be lectured on not messing up a young player (it was probably a case of Ubaldo being so good that they just left him alone). Anyway, every start with him is an edge of your seat encounter. Let’s just hope in 2017 that the adventures outweigh the misadventures.

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