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

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.

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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.

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.

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