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2011 Fantasy Baseball Projections: Colorado Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez Throws Shutout; Back to Old Form?

Thu, Jun 2, 2011

Buy or Sell?, Player Projections

Colorado Rockies’ pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez is not the same flame-thrower he was last year, and everyone knows it. 

After 10 starts in 2010, Jimenez was 9-1 with a historically minuscule 0.88 ERA and 61/24 K/BB ratio in 71.1 innings. This season, Jimenez is 1-5 through 10 starts with an embarrassing 4.98 ERA and 52/30 K/BB ratio in 59.2 innings.

So what’s been the difference?

A big drop in velocity is the obvious answer, and it’s been well documented: here and here, for example.

Not only is his average fastball velocity down (from 96.1 mph in 2010 to 93.0 this season), but he’s lost three mph on his slider (86.6 mph to 83.3 mph) and two mph on his changeup (87.7 mph to 85.8 mph).

Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy blames Jimenez’s struggles on his mechanics, others have pointed to his cuticle problem (which sidelined him for nearly three weeks in April) as the culprit.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci made this observation in mid-May:

When you compare video of the 2010 early-season Jimenez to the 2011 Jimenez, the difference is noticeable. Jimenez does not have the extension or the finish he had last year. Last season his hand would continue past and below his left knee after releasing the ball; this year it often stops above and in front of his left knee. While he still has enough velocity to win, he doesn’t have the finish on his pitches to dominate.

One of the biggest numbers that jumps off of Jimenez’s stat page this season is 4.53, his walk rate. Jimenez has never been known for his precise control, but he did limit his walk rate to 3.51 and 3.74 in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Given his improved control over the last four starts (eight walks in 30 innings—including zero walks in a complete game shutout Wednesday against the Dodgers), Jimenez may finally be back on track.

Since his early exit in the fourth inning against the Mets on May 12, Jimenez has compiled a 3.30 ERA in his last four outings, including three quality starts and one not-so-good start. In those four starts, he’s averaging more than seven innings pitched. In his first six starts of the season, his average outing lasted less than five innings.

So is the Rockies’ supposed ace finally regaining his old form?

Not quite.

Despite his seemingly dominant performance Wednesday night, his average fastball velocity was just over 93 mph. Although Jimenez did record seven strikeouts in that game, only four of his 106 offerings resulted in a swing-and-miss.

On the other hand, Jimenez’s season ERA (4.98) doesn’t match up with his 3.77 FIP or 4.04 xFIP. His BABIP (.278) is in line with both his 2010 total of .271 and career mark of .279, and his strand rate of 63.0 percent is well-below average. It certainly seems that Jimenez has been better than the traditional statistics indicate.

Jimenez’s strikeout rate (7.84) is down slightly from last year’s 8.69 (career 8.08). Given the small sample size we’re dealing with, one dominant start could bump his season K/9 back up near last year’s mark, so this number isn’t too troubling.

In fact, Jimenez is still coaxing swings on pitches out of the zone at the exact same rate he ended last season with (29.1 percent). Perhaps even more encouraging, his first-pitch strike rate (57.9 percent) is actually higher than last year’s mark of 56.5 percent.

All things considered, it’d be unreasonable to expect Jimenez to post the same first-half splits that he did last season (15-1, 2.20 ERA). In all reality, his “old form” included a historic stretch that he may never replicate. However, given that he is healthy (and the Rockies insist he is), it’s entirely possible that Jimenez could post a 3.50 ERA from here on out.

Moving forward, fantasy managers should note Jimenez’s outrageous home/road splits this season:

  • Home: 31.2 innings, 27/16 K/BB ratio, 7.67 ERA, 1.83 WHIP
  • Road: 28 innings, 25/14 K/BB ratio, 1.93 ERA, 0.82 WHIP

Assuming the Rockies don’t shuffle their rotation, Jimenez’s next three starts will come at San Diego, home vs. the Dodgers and home vs. Detroit. He’s a must start next week at San Diego, but his starts at home against the Dodgers and Tigers will go a long way in determining whether or not his mini success streak is legit.

Image courtesy of: Serena A. Thaw

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