Friday Rockpile: Is Ubaldo Really Back?

During the 2009 season, Jose Contreras was traded to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Brandon Hynick (who I might add hasn't really done anything noteworthy since joining the White Sox, and has apparently signed on with the Reds) in an effort to shore up a rotation that had taken a hit. Contreras, as many people know, throws a split-finger fastball that tends to turn stomachs when demonstrated. While Contreras was with the Rockies, Ubaldo Jimenez saw the splitter, thought "gee, that's a neat pitch", learned it, and made it a disgusting addition to his repertoire.

Everything went right for Ubaldo in 2010. He posted the lowest full season ERA in team history (with a nod to Marvin Freeman). He started the All Star game. He finished 3rd in Cy Young voting. For the first half of the season, he was one of the most untouchable pitchers in the past decade.

2011 started with Ubaldo hurting his finger or thumb or something like that in frustrating fashion, and through 6 starts had a disheartening 6.67 ERA, a 30:22 K:BB ratio, had lost velocity, and basically couldn't get anything to go RIGHT.

I remember thinking that Ubaldo was just such a prodigy for throwing disgusting pitches that he was like one of those superheroes that learn everyone else's powers for a short amount of time. He could adapt to anything. After his disastrous start to this season, I was wondering who put kryptonite in his drinking water. I wanted to kill his manicurist. I swore to never shop at that little gift shop that didn't have the "Ubaldo" license plate. It was an absolutely gut-sinking feeling to think that all of that pitching wizardry might be gone.

As the season stands, Jimenez is sporting a 4.07 ERA with a 99:43 K:BB ratio. That by itself, if the season ended today, would be 11th all time, bookended by Jason Marquis' 4.04 ERA in 2009 and Aaron Cook's 4.12 ERA in 2007.

After those appalling 6 starts, Ubaldo turned himself around, somehow, and since those 6 starts has posted a 3.12 ERA with 69:21 K:BB ratio. He's allowed all of 4 home runs during those 80.2IP, 3 of which coming in one game against the Dodgers. For those of you keeping spreadsheets at home, that's roughly a 2.92 FIP over that span.

Much like he learned a splitter, much like he learned to prevent home runs in a hitters' paradise, Ubaldo is once again adapting.

What's kind of weird is that during the good stretch, his strikeout rate has actually DROPPED. Upside: so have his walk numbers. Frankly, if he wants to complement a 7.70 K/9 with a 2.34 BB/9, I'm not going to be the one complaining.

After that miserable start, and not including Thursday's start against the Brewers, Ubaldo's full season ERA+ is sitting at a 109 (and if you're into Fangraphs numbers, ERA- of 100), suggesting that he's dug himself out of his pit of doom and pitched himself into being a better-than-average pitcher on the entirety of the season.

The remaining concern is Ubaldo's velocity. We became accustomed to seeing triple digits at least once or twice a start. But so far this season, it's become increasingly apparent that he's just not comfortable sitting at 96 for whatever reason. Maybe those 6 starts of nastiness spooked him enough to just not want to throw it. That said, it's clear that Ubaldo has yet again adapted to his circumstances and found a new way to be very effective while peaking at 97-98. 

Here's the funny thing: when have you seen a pitcher top out at 97-98 and been disappointed? Those triple digits are pretty sexy, I won't lie, but let's remember that topping out at 97 is still gasolina, baby.

I know I'm getting ahead of myself here, but the past 11 starts from Jimenez have been really encouraging, and it warms the cockles of my cold, black heart to see him overcoming adversity in this fashion. 

So to answer the question of "Is Ubaldo back?", I have to still take that safe escape and say "I don't know". Because come on, nobody knows. Let's compromise, though, so we can walk away with something more definitive:

Is Ubaldo back? Well, I don't know if 2010 Ubaldo will ever be back. But how about 2009 Ubaldo? I can live with that, and I think most of us could as well.

(hat tip to user GoRoxGo and others for pointing out Ubaldo's excellent work since Mid-May)

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