Earlier today, Steve Berthiaume made this post on the SweetSpot: In search of Ubaldo Jimenez’s fastball.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for Berthiaume. In fact, I kind of want to be him. However, I can’t agree with his assessment of Ubaldo’s struggles.
To begin with, Steve’s comparison of Ubaldo to Smoky Joe Wood almost made me cry. If you don’t know Smoky Joe’s story, you should probably read the piece. But, I suppose I’ll give the quick version anyway. Smoky Joe was a dominant force for the Red Sox in 1912. For that one season, he was more unhittable than Bugs Bunny. Then he blew out his arm and finished his career as an outfielder. Reading his name in association with Ubaldo made me very uncomfortable. Honestly, it was a bit cruel of Steve.
The grouping of Ubaldo’s 2010 second half with the beginning of this season is my biggest point of contention. I think that’s unfair. In 2010, Ubaldo’s second half didn’t match his first half, but that’s a ridiculous standard. As Berthiaume points out, very few pitchers have ever had that kind of success. In reality, his second half last year was much better than most of the league — 3.80 ERA. If Ubaldo was currently pitching like he did at the end of 2010, we wouldn’t be worried. His struggles this season have been much worse.
Granted Jimenez’s average velocity is down, but that stat is somewhat skewed from him throwing six innings of 88 MPH fastballs on Opening Day. Obviously, he was without his best stuff that day because of the cuticle injury. Since returning from the DL, his velocity has returned. In his last start, he was consistently around 95 MPH.
Here are a few relevant excerpts from the piece I wrote following U’s last start:
Nevertheless, I’m unconcerned by Ubaldo’s poor start. On Opening Day, his lack of velocity and movement was very alarming, but, since he’s returned from the DL, his nasty stuff is back. The problems with Ubaldo have been command, stamina, and inefficiency, all of which play off each other. Even when he gets hitters out, they take him deep into the count. As a result, he’s often racking up 75 – 80 pitches by the fourth inning. Once the fatigue sets in, he starts making mistakes; big league hitters usually hit 95 MPH mistakes a long way. Honestly, he looks like he’s in spring training shape, which makes sense considering how much crucial time he missed over the last two months.
Hidden in the brutal box scores are some glimpses of the old Ubaldo. Last Sunday against the Marlins, he didn’t give up a hit through the first four innings. However, he threw a bunch of pitches to get through those four innings and was out of gas by the fifth. He started that inning by walking three straight hitters. He nearly worked out of the jam after two quick outs, but he made a mistake by elevating a four seam fastball to Omar Infante. Infante’s three-run triple was the only hit Ubaldo surrendered. In all likelihood, if he had kept that pitch down in the zone, everyone would’ve been raving about how great he looked.
Ubaldo’s strikeout rate is another encouraging sign. In his first start of the season, he only struck out one batter in six innings, but, since returning from the DL, he’s been able to overpower hitters, striking out nine batters per every nine innings. That’s actually quite a bit better than his career 8.1 K/9. He wouldn’t be able to mow down hitters like that without good velocity and movement. As he rounds into regular season shape, he will find his control, and when that happens, he’ll once again be a nightmare for opposing hitters. I expect him to finish the season strong. Once he throws a couple of postseason gems, no one will remember what he did in April.
I’m convinced that Ubaldo is primed to have a big game tonight against the Giants. Reportedly, he has been working hard to clean up his mechanical issues, but there are no more excuses. At this point, he should be in regular season shape and the Rockies desperately need him to perform now.
With all that said, Berthiaume was completely correct about one thing: Ubaldo did look a lot like Nuke LaLoosh in his last start. He had all kinds of velocity and movement, but no idea where it was going. However, I think beaming Dinger would’ve been a major positive.
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