Saturday, August 20, 2011

Don't make apologies for Ubaldo Jimenez

Ubaldo Jimenez is now a member of the Cleveland Indians.

Ubaldo Jimenez is a staff ace, even if he has been about normal since last August.

Ubaldo Jimenez throws six, maybe seven quality pitches.

Ubaldo Jimenez is worth the price of Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, because he can be an impact player now, while Pomeranz is a ways away, and White has to worry about his finger turning into Adam Miller.

Ubaldo Jimenez is under contract during the "Indians window" from 2011-2013, while Pomeranz and White likely won't make an impact until 2012.

It all sounds familiar, doesn't it? Whenever anyone mentions the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, it was likely in combination with one or more of the previous comments.

We all know Jimenez's numbers. The big righty wen't 19-8 last season, with a 2.88 ERA. He pitched an early no-hitter, and went on to start the All-Star game. Entering the all-star break, Jimenez was an incredible 15-1, with two complete games and a 2.20 ERA. He was clearly the best pitcher in the game at the time, and was having an incredibly special season.

While the wheels didn't fall off of Jimenez's cart, they certainly got a bit more wobbly during the second half of the season. Jimenez made 15 starts in the second half, going 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA. While the 3.80 is nothing to scoff at, clearly he was a different pitcher then the one that dominated the National League during the first half.

In 2011, things started off much worse for the Rockies ace. After making his first start of the season, he went on the DL for the first time in his career with, of all things, a cracked cuticle on his pitching thumb. During that initial start, Jimenez had given up five earned runs in six innings pitched, and was complaining of "grip problems" during the start. When he returned, he wasn't much better, if not worse. He gave up 28 earned runs in his next eight starts, only making it past the six inning mark in four of those starts. His ERA ballooned to 6.67 at it's highest, and was sitting at 5.86 as he entered June.

The trade rumors began to swirl, as Jimenez's velocity had dropped three MPH since 2010. Jimenez was also closing in on the 1,000 inning mark in Colorado, and the term "arm trouble" began to circulate throughout major league circles.

But Jimenez immediately began pitching better. On June 1, he pitched his first complete game, a seven K, four hit shut-out against the Dodgers, dropping his ERA nearly a point, to 4.98. It was his first win of the season...on June 1st.

He would end the month of June with two more wins, and in his six starts, four of them were of seven innings or more. His ERA dropped to 4.35, and the velocity began to pick up once again. He would continue his brilliant pitching into July, garnering three more wins, and at one point dropping his ERA to 4.00.

Enter the Indians and their massive offer to acquire Jimenez.

It was an interesting deal for the Indians since Jimenez was clearly the best starter on the market, and with the Indians seemingly in a hunt for a right-handed, power-hitting outfielder. While the Indians could have used a starter, it didn't seem to be at the top of the needs list. Still, when a pitcher like Jimenez goes on the market, you have to make that phone call.

Jimenez has a contract that clearly fits within the confines of the Indians' money saving strategy. In 2012, Jimenez makes a paltry $4.2 million, and it only goes up slightly in 2013, with a team option at $5.75 million. Jimenez does have another club option in 2014 at $8 million, but a clause in his contract allows him to opt out of the option if he was traded. He was, and he will.

With Jimenez signed through 2013 at a club friendly price, he is the perfect "ace" to trade for, since the Indians' front office sees the club's playoff window as 2012-2013. Of course, with the Indians only two-and-a-half games out of first now, the 2011 season enters the window as well.

I'm on board with the Indians' reasoning for making the deal, since Jimenez clearly has the stuff that aces are made of. I even say that with the firm belief that barring injury, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz will be top-of-the-rotation starters for Colorado starting this year (with White slated to return to the majors and make his Rockies' debut next week, and Rockies' brass believing that Pomeranz has a chance to enter the rotation next year).

His four starts with the Indians have been a mixed bag of bad, with a quality start in the middle. His first start was a struggle in Texas, as he went five innings, giving up five earned runs, seven hits and three walks, while striking out seven. He couldn't locate any of his seven wonder-pitches, and made 108 total pitches during the five-inning stint.

He rebounded nicely in his next start, giving up three runs (none earned) in an eight inning start against the Tigers, giving up five hits and a walk, while striking out six. He made 117 pitches, and showed signs of that "ace status" that the Indians gave up so much for.

In his third start, he reverted back to the guy in the first start, struggling from the start to locate anything, and only making it to the middle of the fifth inning. In 4 2/3 IP, he gave up nine hits and four earned runs, walking only one, but striking out five. The patient White Sox hitters waited for him to groove fastballs, and Jimenez went deep into many counts, throwing 105 pitches through 4 2/3 innings.

His last start was once again against the Tigers, the third game of a series in which the Indians had lost the first two, dropping them precariously close to inconsequence with the regular season drawing towards it's final month of baseball. This was what he was traded be a stopper during a stretch run. To reclaim a bit of the Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia magic that had been missing since 2009. After three up-and-down starts, it was his chance to put the naysayers like me to rest.

Except it didn't happen.

Jimenez melted down, giving up eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. The Indians would make a run before finally losing 8-7, but the damage had been done.
That's not good enough.

In three of his Tribe starts, he went five innings or less, and he's given up four or more runs in those same three games.

Yeah, I get it, you can't judge a book by a four-game cover...can you? We, as Indians' fans, have to look at the big picture. I mean, we have him for two whole years! And, we have him for a nice, cheap price! And, we have to give him a chance, it's only been four starts! And, he's still getting used to the American League hitting! And his mechanics are shot! And next year, he could win 20, and you'll forget about this year. And two years from now, he'll win 20 more!
Many have used that idiotic thinking to make his three shoddy performances acceptable. I've heard it all, from small sample sizes, to getting his bearings straight, to how emotional he must be to leave the organization that he's been with since day one of his career, to how cruddy his mechanics are.

Sorry, it's the stretch drive, and the Indians are (or at least were) a player to win the division, in case you didn't notice.

The Indians payed an extremely high price to acquire Jimenez, giving up two potential aces to nab an "ace." Therefore, don't you think that he should pitch like one?  Sorry, it's not okay to just toss away 2011.

Remember another "ace" pitcher who was dealt when he was 27.  Remember CC Sabathia? Clearly, Sabathia had a bit more substance backing his career. He won the Cy Young in 2007, going 19-7 (Jimenez was 19-8) with a 3.21 ERA (Jimenez had a 2.88). CC was a lefty, likely making him a bit more valuable, but there are certainly major similarities between the two, especially considering the struggles that Sabathia went through to start the 2008 season, going 3-8 through June 5th, before a late June surge.  He then went to Milwaukee and promptly went 9-0 in his first 11 starts, with six complete games. Overall, he went 11-2, and carried the Brew-Crew to the playoffs on his back.

Or how about another "ace" pitcher who was dealt during the 2009 season after another Cy Young award win. Cliff Lee was 2-6 heading into June, but was hurt thanks to no run production. Still, things picked up for the Tribe ace in June and July, as he went 5-3 with a sub 3.00 ERA. He was traded to the Phillies at the deadline, and simply went off, rolling out four wins in his first four starts, all quality starts. Overall, he would go 7-4, and he did taper off a bit in September, but his 3.39 ERA, two complete games, and six quality starts stand out.

Jimenez may not have the Sabathia pedigree, and may not have been "in the groove" as Lee was with regards to throwing strikes, but he certainly would fit in the equation with what those two players were expected to give their team. Jimenez is currently 1-0, with the Indians losing two of his three starts. He certainly has a chance to make a big impact in 2011. With nine-to-ten starts likely ahead of him, the time to start making that impact is now.

The Indians signed him to be a stopper, plain and simple. While Justin Masterson deserves to be in the Cy Young talk, and while Josh Tomlin has been an impressive surprise, and while Fausto has looked a bit like the 2007 version of himself lately, Jimenez has the stuff to absolutely blow players away.

That's why Ubaldo Jimenez is now a member of the Cleveland Indians.

That's what can make Ubaldo Jimenez the staff ace the Tribe needs, if he stops being just kinda pretty good since last August.

That's what will make his six, or possibly seven pitches so impressive (and not just a conversation piece about throwing too many pitches).

And that what makes Ubaldo Jimenez worth the price of Drew Pomeranz and Alex White...because he can be an impact player now. While Pomeranz may be close, and White even closer, there are still many...many questions until they actually do it.

I don't care about Ubaldo Jimenez being under contract during the "Indians window" in 2012 and 2013 today. I care about him making an impact in 2011. In case you didn't notice, we're trying to make the playoffs. The Indians don't have time to allow him a few starts to figure out the American League. In this race, one game could make the difference.

So stop apologizing for Ubaldo Jimenez. The farm was given up for him to win games THIS YEAR, not just the next two. Now, if we can just figure out a way for him to hit...

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