Ubaldo Jimenez Is Trouble

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 3: Ubaldo Jimenez of the Cleveland Indians stretches before a game with the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on August 3, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Even if the Indians have played well over their heads just to be a tick over .500 (and they have), acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez is an absolute good.  For one, the Tribe handed over pitching prospects in exchange for him.  As good as Drew Pomeranz and Alex White may now be, even in combination they're not likely to add up to one Ubaldo Jimenez.  TINSTAAPP is real.  Trading minor league pitchers for major league pitchers is a winning proposition at today's going rates. 

On top of that, Jimenez may have the most team-friendly contract in major league baseball.  As nice as it is to be paying a pitcher of Gavin Floyd's caliber $5M this season, Ubaldo will make about half that even though he's about a full win better than Gavin.  The Indians gave up overrated (albeit still good) prospects and they're paying the guy peanuts.  It's a great move for them.  Vegas didn't like them to even win 75 games this year, but getting Jimenez puts them at just shy of 81 for 2012 in my opinion.  They're in contention now and a couple more shrewd moves will put them right in the thick of things in 2012.

Because this guy is for realz.  He's been just shy of Cy Young type numbers the past two seasons and this one hasn't been any worse.  According to the Indians broadcasters, Jimenez says he has 5+ pitches.  Watching him pitch and checking out the metrics, I'd guess he means he's got a rising fastball, a running fastball, curve, slider, and a splitter that he adds and subtracts from.  Formidable sounding, right?  Sure, but that's not to say there are no weaknesses.

His pure stuff is good.  Both heaters are in the 93-96 mph range when he wants it, though he tends to start off at bats with 91-92 and then finish them with the good stuff.  Nothing wrong with saving some wear and tear.  Against righties, he's pretty efficient and solid with location.  He tends to stay away, but will go up and/or in on the hands for whiffs and jam shots.  Without the platoon advantage, as you might expect, he's less effective.  He tries to move in and out, but he's still not really comfortable throwing it under the hands or away on the corner at this point.  Hence he misses the zone more frequently and his off-speed stuff is less effectively set up for.

His curve isn't bad, but it's almost purely an early count offering and his command isn't so great that he steals a ton of strikes with it either.  Certainly not a Floydian offering.  The slider and splitter are where it's at.  Both are average to above pitches for the most part, but his feel seems to come and go at times.  Sometimes he'll throw the splitter too hard or spike it in the dirt when the count didn't call for one.  His best split seemed to be around 84-86, but as Tim Belcher--his new pitching coach--mentioned, on average he throws it harder than that.  Grounders aren't a bad result, but I think he could be getting more whiffs with some adjustments.

In his latest start against the Tigers, he seemed to be really missing his feel on the slider that led to a lot more fastballs than I think he'd ideally want to throw to righties.  His problem there seems to be not getting on top of the thing enough.  If he could trade some depth for the horizontal movement he's getting now I think he'd be better off.

So while his raw stuff is right there with pretty much anybody, his tinkering isn't really doing him any favors.  His primary weakness right now is command.  When he gets burned, it's because he'll throw something like this to Wilson Betemit with RISP.  With his stuff, he's not gonna get beat a whole lot as long as he keeps it out of the wheelhouse.  But down and in is right there to a guy like Betemit and pretty much anyone else with some pop for that matter.  

Which is why he should cut down on the number of pitches he throws.  That way he'd get more repetitions of those pitches and command would come a little faster.  It's not that he doesn't have a good idea of how to pitch.  It's just that he's overly cute with it.  A guy with his stuff does not have to get cute.  

All that said, he does seem to really capitalize when he gets ahead in the count.  That's when he brought his best fastball and, to my eye, best splitter and slider.  With the heater in particular Jimenez seems to do a very good job of giving the batter just a little more velocity than he can handle.  Between that and two solid off-speed offerings, there's not a lot to dislike there.  If Belcher can get him focused on not trying to do so much, he could really come into his own.  As it is, he's merely very good and paid very little.  Even if it doesn't come this year, it's not hard to imagine Jimenez as a centerpiece of the Indians' next playoff run.

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