Welcome to any new visitors from Yahoo! Sports. The column you are about to read is part of Counting Rocks: The Numbers Behind the Names, and for the past 3 weeks, we've been running down the rotation candidates.
Counting Rocks is intended to be a more statistical look at the game we know and love, touching on the more advanced metrics and making fun of the ones I don't like (just kidding). Basically, in this column, I'm hoping to take the anecdotal evidence that we have for making any kind of claim about a player's value, and either support or refute that evidence with the numbers behind it.
It always ends up being an entertaining discussion, and usually everyone hates me after I make some absurd claim and then show where I got it from, but we're civil and mature enough to still be friends after it's all over.
That said, again, welcome, and I hope you enjoy me ruining baseball with my computers!
As the regular season draws ever closer, and the Rockies preparing for their first live competition in the Cactus League, we take a look at the mound, and see what pitchers will be heading up the staff in the 2009 season. We've already established a talented and deep back end, and now we're finally reaching the top of our rotation. Coming off a very good 2008 season, our #2 pitcher this season will be:
Ubaldo was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2001. Steadily making his way through the lower teams in the system, Jimenez found himself as the #4 rated prospect in the Colorado Rockies in 2004. He continued slowly progressing toward the majors, including a couple good seasons between A and AA, and a minor league all star appearance. Despite a disappointing first half of 2007 in AAA, Ubaldo was called up midseason after a rash of injuries struck the rotation. Ubaldo put up good numbers in the majors, including decent numbers through 3 starts in the Rockies' run to the World Series.
Building on this nice extended-second-audition (he got a september callup in 2006), Ubaldo put together a very solid season in 2008, and it was rewarded by 4 year, $10M contract with a couple options on the end that could bring the total value to $22.75. Similar to Manny Corpas' contract, this could be a complete steal for the Rockies, especially if Jimenez continues to blossom.
Join me after the jump to a breakdown of Jimenez' season.
Everyone is very high on Jimenez coming into the 2009 season, as he put up very solid numbers.
Completely beating out the Verducci effect, Jimenez posted the 4th lowest single-season ERA in Rockies History (bonus points if you can name the other 4 of the top 5 and what they were), while showing massive strides in his pitching styles. Since he's been in the majors, pitching coach Bob Apodaca has been working on getting him to rein in his fastball, and while still potent and fast, he's dropped a couple MPH off of the ceiling just for the sake of, you know, throwing strikes.
Ubaldo has a fastball that can touch triple-digits when he wants it to, and he had the fastest average fastball in the majors, at 94.9 mph. Add what has been described as a "Jaw-Dropping Curve" and we have a solid guy to be on top of the rotation.
Just looking at his weapons, you'd think Ubaldo would be a strike-em-out all or nothing feast or famine type of pitcher. But as we watched the 2nd half of last season, he developed a serious tendency for groundballs (especially in the later innings of his outings), as we can see in that season-long 54.4 GB%. Honestly, the key to a good pitcher in Coors Field is to keep the ball on the ground, as we have a decent-to-good infield defense (depending on what the defense du jour is). Add in his potential for strikeouts and you have about the closest thing to an ace that we've seen since Pedro Astacio, and arguably better equipped at that.
The big question everyone has about the success of young pitchers is this: Is it a fluke? Is it real?
There's a few ways to look at that. First - BABIP. Second - Fielding-independent metrics.
BABIP, which is a batting average on balls in play, is used to tell how lucky/unlucky a pitcher gets in the course of a season. If his K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 haven't changed much, but his BABIP is high or low, then there's a good chance that the balls are just finding holes or no-man's land. In this case, we want to look at both the BABIP for the park and the BABIP for the pitcher.
You can see that his numbers aren't terribly off from his minor league numbers (and I cite the minor league numbers as he hasn't accumulated enough MLB data to really consider it accurate), and while a little low from Coors Field's BABIP, it's not so low as to discount it completely. Basically, he seems to be giving up a similar number of hits as he has his whole career, and right around the number of hits that fall in Coors, so it's not entirely unreasonable to think that he's not getting lucky, but really controlling the hits.
Secondly, his fielding independent stats also favor Jimenez.
A pitcher can only really control how many K's, BB's, and HR's he gives up. That's why I'm always citing K/9, BB/9, and HR/9. Hits are variable, for the most part. When you see a pitcher with an actual ERA that is drastically different from his FIP, you know that he's either benefiting from his defense/park, or he's getting shortchanged by a poor defense or a tough park. Because Ubaldo's FIP and ERA don't differ by much, there's also the rationale that he is really pitching as well as his ERA suggests.
To summarize the above numbers, Jimenez isn't getting incredibly lucky, and he's striking out, walking, and giving up/preventing enough HRs to be an effective and downright good pitcher.
It looks like this time around, the other projections are a bit harder on Jimenez than I am. The major difference here is the HR/9 rate, which will effect their FIP numbers in the higher direction. While the other projections have his HR rate higher than this season, I'm essentially rewarding him for good numbers in the past 3 seasons in terms of Dinger control. (I'm picturing our stupid mascot trying to pull a prank or something and then Ubaldo turns around all fast with an accusatory look and points at Dinger and says "Hey - joo knock that off" and Dinger hangs his head and puts down the pie/water balloon/inflated paper bag and slowly walks away.)
I was asked last night to summarize Ubaldo Jimenez in 3 sentences. Here they are.
"Provided Ubaldo Jimenez can continue to keep the ball in the park, he'll be successful. His wildness is almost negated by his groundballing methods, and that same wildness keeps hitters guessing about where the next pitch is going to come. A pitcher with a seemingly elite potential, and a solid beginning to build from, Jimenez may finally be the answer to the Rockies' quest to find a homegrown Ace."