“The next three outings we’ll be able to see if we’re going to get worried or what” – Manny Acta on March 17th following Jimenez’s start versus the Reds.

As I read this quote from Manny, I could not help but laugh. One thing I have noticed about the Tribe’s manager is that he rarely gets worried about anything. Heck, I find it difficult to catch him fired up enough to run out and argue with an umpire; however, Manny giving a public indication of the importance of these next three starts really speaks as to how important these next three starts really are.

Many Tribe fans looked at the Ubaldo trade as something that brought the Indians some star power that they had lacked since the magical run in 2007. I was intrigued with the deal because of how Jimenez’s performance seemed unusual in 2011 (considering his excellence in 2010) and thought a fresh start in a new league could be for the better. Well, as a tribute to Ubaldo the ace, behold these 2010 Ubaldisms:

 

Opponents Batting Average Against Fastballs

.220

Against Change-Ups

.167

Against Curveballs

.222

Against Sliders

.216

Against Splitters

.155

Total Batting Average Against All Pitches

.209 (Good for 2nd in MLB)

Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP)

.287

(this and all following tables courtesy of ESPN Trumedia)

The numbers do not lie; Ubaldo was as difficult to hit off of as any pitcher in baseball in 2010. Even his BABIP of .287 was impressive (A BABIP of .300 is considered average). I was particularly impressed with the fact that his curveball (.222) was more hittable than his fastball (.220). How many times has that happened in baseball history? With that being said, this is the type of stuff that you trade your prospects for (Looking at Pomeranz and White, shaking my head). This, paired with Masterson, is supposed to equal the best one-two punch in the division; however, here are the comparable Ubaldisms of 2011 (Includes Colorado and Cleveland splits):

 

Opponents Batting Average Against Fastballs

.274

Against Change-Ups

.244

Against Curveballs

.244

Against Sliders

.217

Against Splitters

.187

Total Batting Average Against All Pitches

.254

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)

.314

 

Although some performance correction is expected because of how effective he was in 2010, it is easy to make the connection and see that Jimenez’s effectiveness decreased across the board. His BABIP fell back down to earth (partially due to some sloppy defense by Colorado and Cleveland) and each pitch in his repertoire suddenly became more hittable. The biggest change from 2010 to 2011 is the large increase in the ability of the opponent to hit Jimenez’s fastball.

Naturally, the first claim that is typically made about Ubaldo deals with Jimenez’s loss of fastball velocity between 2010 and 2011. Let us visit the ESPN trumedia heat map library to discover more:

 

Jimenez's Fastballs were concentrated "middle-in" for 2010

Vs.

2011 Ubaldo has since stopped working the fastball "up and in."

 

As we can see here, the 2.7 MPH difference between 2010 and 2011 has impacted Ubaldo’s approach to locating his fastball. While 2010 Ubaldo concentrated on spotting his fastball on the inner half of the plate to righties and away to lefties, 2011 Ubaldo did just the opposite. Despite the loss in velocity, I would argue that Jimenez could be an effective front of the rotation starter this year if he can achieve better location.

Another knock on Ubaldo was the large disparity between his left on base percentage (LOB) in 2010 and 2011.

LOB Percentage in 2010 76.5
LOB Percentage in 2011 65.0

 

The difference between 2010 and 2011 is a whopping 11.5%. Let us take a step further and see how Ubaldo gave up those runs with men on base in 2010 and 2011, and see if there are any signs as to what caused a great 2010 to turn into a rough 2011. Consider some telling statistics about Jimenez’s performance with men on base in 2010:

  • Jimenez dealt with 369 separate plate appearances with men on base in 2010.
  • Of those 369 PA’s, 90 of them resulted in an Ubaldo strikeout.
  • 38 of them resulted in a walk (intentional or un-intentional).
  • 63 Plate appearances resulted in the batter getting a hit.
  • 49 of those 63 hits given up were considered to be “well hit.”

For those of you keeping score at home, opponents managed to hit about .190 against Ubaldo with men on base in 2010. Basically, I am driving home this point that Ubaldo did an excellent job of preventing hits when men were on base. As you probably know what is coming, let us now review the same stats with men on base in 2011:

  • Ubaldo faced 363 separate plate appearances with men on in 2011.
  • Of those 363 PA’s, 69 resulted in a strikeout.
  • 40 walks with men on base.
  • Opponents managed to get 85 hits off of Jimenez with men on.
  • 71 of the 85 hits given up were classified as “well hit.”

2011 Opponents hit a whopping .263 off of him with men on base. Assuming you are STILL keeping score, that is over a 0.070 increase in batting average for opponents in a one year span. One can discern from the stats I have supplied that Jimenez allowed more opportunities for hits by striking out less batters with men on base in 2011 (69 K’s with men on in 2011 vs. the 90 K’s in 2010). Let us take just one more small step further to look at the difference between Ubaldo’s ability to put away hitters with men on in 2010 and 2011. We will begin with two heat maps that show the locations of Ubaldo’s strikeout pitches to left handed batters. First, the 2010 Lefties heat map:

Notice the pitches are concentrated up and away. (56 K sample size)

And the 2011 Lefties heat map for comparison purposes:

Notice the pitches are now concentrated up and in the following season. (45 K sample size)

 

Anyone else notice the shift in red zones from 2010 to 2011? It may not seem like anything worth noting, but consider that in 2010, lefties had FOUR hits off of Jimenez with  two strike counts all season (4 hits in 90 AB’s, good for an absolute filthy BA of  .044) . You read that right, FOUR! In 2011 on the other hand, lefties went 15-80 off of Jimenez in two strike counts. I do understand that 15-80 still figures to a .188 BA, but the strikeout numbers do show a decrease in “put away” effectiveness for Jimenez. Let us also quickly see and interpret the 2010 and 2011 Righties heat maps:

Notice Jimenez kept most of his pitches around the strike zone in 2010, with the majority of the red zones being in the upper half of the strike zone. (34 K sample size)

 

 

Anyone notice a severe storm moving to the southwest? (24 K sample size)

 

His change in location from 2010 to 2011 also was for the worse. Right-handed opponents batted .138 against Ubaldo with 2 strikes and men on base in 2010; that average rose to .197 in 2011.

So, after 3 tables, 10 bullet points, and 6 heat maps, what do we know? Well, nothing. Just kidding, there is plenty to take away from this analysis. After looking at the differences between Ubaldo’s primary pitch locations in 2010 and 2011, we can say that a combination of factors caused him to locate his pitches differently from one year to another. It is my opinion that a combination of these two issues caused his location change:

 

1.) The drop in velocity- Understand that Jimenez has not had any arm trouble land him on the disabled list, or cause him to miss time. However, it is worth noting that a variety of minor injuries affected him last season. A cuticle issue landed him on the DL in April, and as the season progressed, Jimenez came out and said that he had been dealing with a couple of lower body muscle strains that dated back to spring training. Often times a pitcher will adjust their mechanics in an effort to pitch through the injury. As wacky as Jimenez’s mechanics already were, it is a safe bet that they became even more out of sync as a result of these injuries in 2011.

2.) The change in leagues and stadiums- Ubaldo’s move from the hitters paradise that is Coors Field to a more pitcher friendly Progressive Field did give him the luxury of being a little less fine with his choice for pitches. The problem was, the American League mashed him anyway. In all seriousness, being traded from league to league is an extremely difficult thing to overcome at first. Both pitchers and hitters develop quite the scouting report and feel for each other as they compete against one another. When that luxury is taken away, and you are thrust into a game pitching against players you do not have a lot of experience pitching against, hitters have the edge.

All things aside, the Indians believe that they have Ubaldo’s mechanics worked out and say he is completely healthy. Despite their reassurance, he has looked more 2011 Ubaldo than 2010: 13.2 IP in 5 starts, 19 H allowed, 10 BB vs. 10K,  and an ERA of 7.24. Those stats may look ugly, but consider how bad they looked until Jimenez pitched fairly well yesterday versus the Padres (4IP, 1 ER, 4 H allowed).

I truly do root for and hope Ubaldo returns to his ever-so-dominant 2010 form, but understand that his upper 90′s velocity may never return. Several scouts and websites have reported Ubaldo sitting in the low 90′s despite not having any identifiable injuries.  If his velocity has indeed taken a small dip, Ubaldo is going to have to reinvent himself by using more location than attempting to overpower. I am confident that it can be done, but whether Ubaldo chooses to embrace it will be the key for Cleveland in 2012.

 

Feel free to follow all things Brenden on Twitter: @BrendenLowery

4 Comments

  • Jared Meisto says:

    One of the most in-depth pieces I’ve read on Ulbaldo’s performance. Nice work. Looking forward to reading more of your blogs.

  • Steve says:

    Incredible breakdown, thanks! I’m cautiously optimistic at this point.

  • Brenden Lowery says:

    Thanks guys. I am also cautiously optimistic. I feel like this is the key year for Ubaldo’s career. A bounce back quality season would definitely increase his value (likely putting him out of the Tribe’s pay range when free agency rolls around), while another sub-par season could make the organization regret trading away White and Pomeranz, assuming of course they perform in Colorado.

  • medfest says:

    I too am optimistic for a bounce back year from Jimenez.

    Belcher and Radinsky successfully streamlined Masterson’s motion and I expect the same for Ubaldo.