The purpose of a pitcher, described at its most basic, is to produce outs. When analyzing and scouting a pitcher the process should answer the question “how is this guy going to get major league hitters out?”
In the case of Ubaldo Jimenez that is via the strikeout. In 2013, Jimenez ranked 12th out of 79 qualified starters in the major leagues in K% at 25%. However, his weakness is closely related to his strength. His predilection for the strikeout also leads to him walking people. He walked batters at a rate of 10.3% good for 3rd highest in the league among starters. This in turn means that he throws too many pitches. Despite starting 32 games last season, Jimenez only pitched 182.2 innings averaging out to around 5.7 innings per start.
The question of “how does he produce outs?” is not quite yet answered though. Looking at the basic plate discipline numbers, he does not produce a high swinging strike rate and his in and out of the zone swinging rates are average to below average. Therefore, Jimenez produces strike outs by getting batters looking. Out of all of his strikes, 31.1% of them were looking, good for 12th highest in the league last year. His next highest were strikes via the foul ball at 27.9% and his lowest percentage of strikes came swinging at 15.5%. So Jimenez is able to strike people out by getting them deep into counts and catching them looking, however this also leads to walks.
Striking out people is a good thing. It’s the best way to record an out as a pitcher because while groundballs and fly-balls can fall in, a strikeout is always an out. So Jimenez has that going for him, he also had an excellent second half last year. While a small sample size, it is noteworthy in that it is his most recent performance. He had a 1.82 ERA, his strikeouts went up and his walks went down from the first half. Also, his BABPIP actually increased nearly 20 points. All good signs. However, the fantastic results may have been fueled by a paltry second half HR/FB% of 3.8%. Way below his career and league averages. However, even with that low HR/FB% he still had a second half xFIP of 2.99 (xFIP attempts to correct for fluctuations in HR/FB%).
Ubaldo is a tough nut to crack solely looking at the numbers and while I have a preference for the hard advanced statistics I will be the first to admit scouting plays a hugely important role in player evaluation. For a quick and excellent take on the scouting side, read Don Olsen’s twitter timeline. Don was a writer here for Orioles nation in the past. He writes on how Jimenez improved his fastball in the second half getting the two-seamer to trail away from left-handed hitters and using his splitter as a wipeout pitch.
Taking the broader view, the Orioles signed Jimenez to a four year $50 million deal. Good for an average annual value of a $12.5 million. That is market value and actually a little less than I figured he would earn. Edwin Jackson received a bigger contract last season as did Matt Garza this off-season. Jimenez has his faults, but he is good. His inconsistencies season to season are troublesome, but the talent is there for him to be a difference maker this year for the Orioles. The cost in raw dollars is not prohibitive and about at what the market is set at for pitchers of Jimenez’s ilk. The Orioles went out and got their man.
However, Jimenez also cost the Orioles the 17th overall pick in this coming draft. That cost is harder to determine, but losing first round draft picks for a team that often cries poor and claims to be building through the farm system makes that first round pick all the more valuable. In my estimation, the draft pick is the cost of doing business. Conversely, Jimenez is 30 years old and the back end of the deal may end up hurting. But, the team as currently constructed is a go for it now team and the signing of Jimenez is a go for it now move. The Orioles wanted a top of the rotation starter and they paid for one in both money and picks. Jimenez alongside Yoon, in my view, makes this team as currently constructed true playoff contenders.