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2013 Key Players: Ubaldo Jimenez

2013 Key Players: Ubaldo Jimenez
March 31, 2013
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With opening day almost upon us, it’s time to finish the 2013 Cleveland Indians Key Players series.

This article will focus on starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. When I discussed Justin Masterson back in early February, I labeled him as quite possibly the most important player on the entire team. The fact is, Ubaldo Jimenez is right there with him. With question marks surrounding every Indians starter, the team absolutely needs at least one of the two to come through in a big way this year.

I can remember clearly when I learned that the Indians had traded for Jimenez. Much like the free-agent signings this year, I thought it was a bold move that the club desperately needed to do. Trading your top two pitching prospects is always a risky proposition for a small market team, but I thought the move had the chance to really spark the team and fan base at the time. Sometimes moves just don’t work out, and despite the struggles of Alex White and Drew Pomeranz in Colorado, trading for Jimenez certainly falls in that category.

Coming off a spectacular 2010 season (19-8, 2.88 ERA, 6.5 WAR), Jimenez’s first pitch of the 2011 season clocked in at only 89 miles per hours signaling the first signs of Jimenez’s fall. He would struggle mightily through the months of April and May before getting back on track in June. In July the Indians pulled the trigger on the trade that they hoped would land them a true number one starter to pair with Justin Masterson in their playoff push.

Jimenez’s inconsistency continued through the remainder of 2011 and the team finished ten games out of a playoff spot. 2012 would mark another step backward for the talented hurler as Jimenez posted careers lows nearly across the board (5.40 ERA, 7.28 K/9, 4.84 BB/9). Jimenez showed flashes of his old brilliance at times, save for the blazing fastball he displayed in Colorado, but unfortunately the only thing he did consistently in his first full season with the Indians was underwhelm.

The Indians have made correcting Jimenez one of their top priorities in the offseason. New pitching coach Mickey Calloway spent time with Jimenez in the Dominican Republic this winter working on his mechanics. If spring training has been any indication, he may have made some progress. Reports from Goodyear this spring have been mostly positive. Calloway has preached to Jimenez not to worry about his velocity and instead focus on working quickly and throwing strikes.

It’s important to note even with his average fastball velocity falling to 92.5 mph in 2012, Jimenez still recorded more strikeouts per nine innings than every other Indians starter, with the exception of Zach McAllister.  Even with his struggles the past two years, Jimenez is the most talented starting pitcher on the team and the Indians are hopeful that a simplified approach will allow him to return to some semblance of the pitcher they thought they were getting when they traded for him.

With the additions the Indians have made in the lineup, it’s imperative that the team finds consistency in their rotation. The hope is that Brett Myers and Zach McAllister can eat innings and post solid middle-of-the-rotation numbers. Scott Kazmir is a complete wildcard who I suspect won’t be on a very long leash. That means the heavy lifting has to come from either Masterson or Jimenez, and hopefully both.

Projections expect that Jimenez will be somewhat better in 2013. Bill James is the most optimistic, projecting a 3.99 ERA. Meanwhile, ZIPS sees Jimenez having a 4.37 ERA. Most projections see his WAR falling between 2.0 and 2.5. Unless the other dominoes fall in order, the Indians may need more than that if they want to compete in 2013.

After watching Jimenez in 2012, I’m skeptical of his ability to have success without the overpowering fastball. Control was never his strong suit, but he got away with it with it because of the high strikeout numbers and his ability to keep the ball on the ground. Coming off a year where his line drive percentage was over 23%, it’s hard to imagine his problems completely going away. If he continues to get hit hard the Indians are going to have a huge hole in their rotation.

Starting pitching struggles could completely wipe out the progress the team has made in improving other aspects of the team. At the end of the day, guys like Masterson and Jimenez have to perform better for this Indians team to become a legitimate playoff contender. As the season begins, make sure to monitor their performances closely. They are absolutely essential to the team’s success this year.

Here’s to hoping for the best!

User Comments

April 1, 2013 - 2:54 PM EDT
I am with David I think if he continue to improve his walk ratio he could be a decent starting pitcher. The team has 3 Gold Glove capable players in the outfield so if he can keep his walk ratio down he could be a decent pitcher. We also have a killer bullpen so if he can just let loose for 5-6 innings.

I think his ERA will be around 4.24 this season. Which really isn't that bad.

We need Masterson to have an ERA around 3.77 and pitch 200 innings.

We need Meyers to pitch around 200 innings and give us a chance to win every game. I expect his ERA to be 4.07 on the bright side and 4.50 if he struggles. If it gets worse then that they should probably move him to the bullpen and trade Matt Albers

Zach McCalister again they need him to basically be like Meyers with more upside. I see an ERA around 3.98.

If they can have numbers close to what I suggest we should be in very good shape.

Scott Kazmir is obviously the wild card. I could see an ERA around 3.62 or 4.88. No one really knows. It will be huge if he can at least pitch like a middle of the rotation starter. A middle of the rotation lefty was the one thing we REALLY needed this offseason that we didn't get. Well maybe we did we will just have to wait and see.

The funny thing is I have not even mentioned Carlos Carrasco and I think he is the most talented pitcher on the staff or at least has the potential to be. I see an ERA around 3.69 if things go well. I think he deserves a rotation spot when he is healthy and it will be interesting to see what happens. Do they send Meyers to the bullpen? Release Kazmir? Or perhaps send McCalister down to make adjustments based on his recent time in the majors? If everything goes right I could see them moving McCalister to the bullpen for just this year. He could thrive there where his fastball and size will really play up. He could be both a long man as well as give the team another talented back of the bulllpen arm.

Of course we also have Trevor Bauer. Which is awesome. He could be Jaret Wright circa 2007. Lets just hope thats the only season he conjures Wright.

We also have a little more depth for the back of the rotation. Dice K and Kluber give the rotation just that little bit of added protection that could go a long way later in the season. I often think of Starting Pitching as a numbers game and I think its fair to say we have a decent amount of interesting options.

Who knows by August the rotation could be

April 1, 2013 - 2:31 PM EDT
I keep banking on the fact that Ubaldo is pitching for his next contract. He HAS to have a big year, or he's not getting squat this offseason. With his talent, he could have a big year, get paid this offseason, and result back to the inconsistent mess he has always been. Let's hope that happens as it benefits the Indians for this season at least.
March 31, 2013 - 11:04 PM EDT
The thing that has me hopeful is that his walk rate has drastically improved, that could be big, either something's better with his control or it's just a small sample size spring training thing. In 30 innings this spring, he's walked only 7 batters (and struck out 22), in 23 innings last year, he walked 15 batters, and he walked 15 batters in about 15 innings the year before...if he can keep the walks down, that will definitely go a long way toward making him passable at least.
March 31, 2013 - 6:32 PM EDT
I'd checked on gameday on his last outing and while it was a tiny sampling, it looked like a snapshot of the same old Ubaldo. I think he hit 94 once on a 4-seam but he was mostly 91-93 and peppering the upper half of the zone. I'd love for Ubaldo to turn it around and at least be an average pitcher, but nothing that's been said or done by him this spring has given me any hope. My favorite comment was when he said something about how his mechanics were very bad for the first couple months last season ... so I guess he thinks in the second half he was in a good place mechanically?

A lot of talk this spring has been about his "confidence", I think the Plain Dealer's written about 10 Ubaldo-related articles with "confidence" in the headline. When you see that in reference to a pitcher you can pretty much guarantee you're hearing some b.s. Confidence isn't what prevented Ubaldo from performing, his stuff deteriorated, any pitcher throwing a straight 91-mph fastball who doesn't have good command is pretty much by definition going to have to "nibble", either that or he's going to get a lot of pitches deposited in the bleachers, and in any case he has very good reason to lack confidence. It was always the line about Huff too, about how he had to have confidence in his fastball because he'd get burned on his secondary stuff ... No, he needed to improve his secondary stuff and improve his fastball command, because his fastball was also 91 mph and straight.
March 31, 2013 - 3:22 PM EDT
it seems from following gameday online that U is throwing 94-95 most of the time with his 4 seemer. That isnt as fast as he was but it is an improvement over 2012. It could be adrenilin can cause a couple ticks on the gun and if we are in contention and his mechanics are what they should be maybe he can get the previous hear and K/9 rate back to where they were earlier in his career. As for 15-1 at the all-star break the stars had to line up just perfectly for that to have happen. But 15-17 wins for season from both masty and U would be nice very nice.

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