Jimenez’s 2nd-half dominance in 2013 will lead to a big contract and an inflated ADP.
Heading into the 2013 season, nobody really expected much out of Ubaldo Jimenez. He’d just finished the worst season of his career, where he posted an awful 5.40 ERA and 1.61 WHIP to go along with a league leading 17 losses, and as 2013 unfolded it didn’t seem like much had changed. Jimenez allowed 15 runs in his first three starts, and by the All Star break his ERA was sitting at an ugly 4.56.
But in the second half of the season, something clicked.
Jimenez started pitching like it was 2010 again — the year he won 15 games before the break and finished third in Cy Young voting. Check out his first- and second-half splits. I promise I’m not lying to you. These came from the same pitcher.
Nobody in baseball this year had a bigger first/second-half difference in ERA than Jimenez. He actually allowed more earned runs in April then he did in the entire second half.
So, what’s the reason for his drastic improvement? Was it all skill? And should you trust Jimenez going into 2014?
Read on to find out!
Was is the fastball…or something else?
Surprisingly, not much has changed with Jimenez’s velocity. I half-expected to find that Jimenez rediscovered the velocity he had back in Colorado and was hitting 97 mph once again. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. He was still sitting right around 93 mph, and while he did see a slight uptick in velocity in the second half (about 0.5 mph), it wasn’t enough to make too much of a difference
The biggest change Jimenez made this year was adding a cutter to his pitching repertoire. While he only used the pitch 44 times all year (1.37%), batters fouled it back often and Jimenez was able to throw it as an unexpected set-up pitch. Coincidentally, 66% of those cutters came in the final 40% of his starts (i.e., the second half). That’s a rate increase of over 250%.
However, a pitch that’s used just 1.37% of the time (or approximately once every 73 pitches) really isn’t going to make a huge difference. Sure, it helped Jimenez post a career-high 9.56 K/9 in 2013, but did it affect his numbers to the extent that we saw this year? No, unfortunately the biggest influence on his second half performance came down to two luck factors.
More than just skill — schedule
The first of those two luck factor is his home run total. By July 22nd, Jimenez had allowed a total of 13 home runs on the season, but in 68.1 innings after that point, he allowed a grand total of one home run. That’s right, one home run. It takes some serious luck to maintain a home run rate that low, and it will be next to impossible for Jimenez to carry that into next season.
The other luck factor Jimenez saw in the second half was his stretch-run matchups. His September stat line was pretty incredible (4-0, 1.09 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 11.10 K/9, 1.52 BB/9), however it seems a lot less impressive when you consider the opponents he faced. Hey, don’t believe me. You be the judge:
Sep. 3: vs. BAL (26th-fewest R, 5th-highest K%)
Sep. 9: vs. KC (13th-fewest R, 29th-highes K%)
Sep. 14: @CHW (2nd-fewest R, 14th-highest K%)
Sep. 19: vs. HOU (5th-fewest R, Highest K%)
Sep. 24: vs. CHW (2nd-fewest R, 14th-highest K%)
Sep. 29: @ MIN (6th-fewest R, 2nd-highest K%)
Those five teams averaged a winning percentage of .433 last year and were probably more focused on giving their September call-ups a chance to play rather than starting their best lineup and trying to win.
One month of a solid walk rate against some pretty free-swinging teams isn’t going to convince me that Jimenez has improved his control, and two months with some obvious home run luck isn’t going to convince me that he has improved that either. Once the walk rate comes back up, so will his WHIP, and once he stops getting lucky with the home runs his ERA will rise. When his ERA and WHIP rise, the wins go down. You get the point.
Some of it’s for real
While I think the improved strikeouts are for real (and they could possibility get better if he signs with an NL team this offseason), that’s really the only thing that’s changed with Jimenez. What if I told you that Freddie Garcia pitched to a 1.65 ERA to go along with a solid 1.65 BB/9 in September this year? I don’t predict anyone jumping on the Garcia bandwagon anytime soon this offseason, and that shouldn’t be any different with Jimenez.
Despite the small sample size, people are still going draft Jimenez way too high this year based on the fact that he’s pitched successfully in the past, but unless we see him starting hitting 97 on the radar gun once again, he’s not going to come anywhere near his Colorado numbers. Don’t kid yourself.
The one who drafts Jimenez next year may think they are getting a steal, expecting a continuation of his second-half dominance, but you know better now. When you see Jimenez’s name come up way too early in your draft next year, just pass right along. Let someone else have fun with his career 4.98 April ERA, and be glad that you didn’t learn the hard way why it’s not a good idea to go all-in on small sample sizes.