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Why are we overworking Ubaldo?

After giving up a 2-run shot in the 8th inning to Diamondbacks LF Conor Jackson, Ubaldo Jimenez' franchise-best scoreless-innings streak was snapped at 33 innings, which beats Gabe White's 29.1 straight innings.

All of this amazingness hasn't gone unnoticed, as well. Jerry Crasnick has dubbed Ubaldo "Bob Gibson Jr."

The Elias Sports Bureau has reported Ubaldo's 0.93 ERA is the 2nd lowest after 12 starts in major league history, second only to Boston's Dutch Leonard in 1914, who proudly sported a 0.83 ERA.

So here's what I don't get: Why do the Rockies seem to think that Ubaldo needs to hit 120+ pitches every start? It just doesn't make sense to me. We're going to need him to be Studly McBeefMuffin (or Beefy McStudMuffin, whichever you prefer) come August, September, October, and I guess maybe even in November. I'd really like to see him somewhat sharp still, and not completely gassed.

Here's the breakdown of Ubaldo's 12 starts as far as pitch count goes:












W, 5-3







W, 4-2







W, 4-0







W, 2-0







W, 12-1







W, 5-2







L, 0-2



3/14/10 (1)




W, 6-2







W, 4-0







W, 7-3







W, 4-0







W, 3-2



He's averaging 111 pitches per start. It may not seem inordinately high, but he has 4 of 11 starts at 120 pitches or above and 2 starts at 128 pitches (including his nono and Lincecum shutout).

Now this is where the old-school mentality will come into play and tell me that pitch counts are overstated, and that 100 pitch threshold is somewhat pointless, and any other number of things that are based on how a pitcher "feels" rather than a pitch count. I will not eschew those, necessarily. Not every pitcher is going to become magically gassed at 100 pitches, or 110 pitches, or whatever.

Click past the jump and we'll respond to that and discuss Ubaldo's workload.

Say we use that 100 pitches mark (plus warmups) as a good baseline of Pitcher Workload. A pitcher goes out and throws 100 effective pitches, he's put in his work for the day. If he has more, great, but we should respond to that on a case-by-case basis. If he can't make it farther than that and it isn't a CG shutout, he's probably been lit up and couldn't find the strike zone.

Now we know that Ubaldo clearly doesn't fall in any of those latter categories. So far this season, he hasn't pitched fewer than 6 innings, and he hasn't pitched less than 7 in the months of May or June.

My concern comes in here: that 100 pitch threshold, if we're agreeing it's a full day's work, what purpose would it serve to let him go beyond 100 pitches? Well, there are probably 3 main reasons:

1.     It's a super tight game and he's just cruising through batters like they aren't even there; until he forces our hand, let's just let the man work.

2.     The kid just wants to pitch! I came out to talk to him and he practically begged me for the next hitter. I can't say no to those big doe-eyes.

3.     Our bullpen sucks on otherworldly levels and I'd rather send my pitching coach out there to pitch rather than take the ball from this guy and hand it off to one of those clowns.

Well, let's go ahead and throw #3 right out of the window. Yes, the bullpen has screwed up a couple of times, blown a save or two, etc. But all said and done, our bullpen is sitting on a nice, healthy 3.10 ERA, good for 5th in baseball. For those of us who wear labcoats while we watch baseball, we also sport a 3.38 FIP (3rd in baseball) and a 4.15 xFIP (8th in baseball) - point is it's a good bullpen. That same bullpen is also responsible for 2.50 WPA, essentially saying that the pen took the rest of the team on their collective shoulders and won us 2 or 3 games all by themselves. Go bullpen.

That leaves us with "It was a super tight game; we NEEDED him!" and "Well geez he's a young man and LOVES to pitch".

So tight games. So far this season, Ubaldo has left 1 game when the team was behind, and that game ended up being a loss. He's left 3 games with a 2-run lead. He's left 2 games with a 3-run lead. 2 games with a 4-run lead, 1 with 7 runs and 1 with 12 runs. Let's not forget Sunday's game where he left with a 1-run lead, either. That means that of Ubaldo's 12 starts, he's left the game with a save situation for the bullpen in 6 of them. Slightly more nerve wracking (because come on, what baseball fan COMPLETELY trusts their bullpen?), but that's what your back-end pitchers are there for.

Here's the tricky part for me. I trust our bullpen more than a lot of other Rockies' fans to hold a tight game. I don't think we need to push Ubaldo to 115 pitches with a 2-run lead (incidentally, Ubaldo is averaging 119 pitches through 7 innings in games where he leaves with a 2-run lead). I do believe that the bullpen can muster an ERA below 6 in 2-run games (waits for everyone to run and point at Rafael Betancourt). But given that he's still practically unhittable by everyone not named Jackson or Dunn, I will pretend that I'm ok with giving him the extra pitches "just to make sure". I'd just be far happier if those 2-run games could suddenly become like 5-run games so that Tracy doesn't feel he HAS to pitch Ubaldo.

What's bugging me is the 3 starts where we had a bigger lead and Tracy still pushed Ubaldo too far. Those 3 starts are the No-hitter (and I'll just leave that one alone; barring injury, you leave the guy in), Sunday Afternoon, and the Lincecum Shutout. Last week, when Tracy came out in the 9th inning to talk to Ubaldo, he was sent back to the dugout after promising his pitcher 1 more batter. Sunday, Jimenez was sent out for the 8th inning when he was already up at 105 pitches after 7 innings vs. Arizona, had a 3-run lead, and proceeded to give up a 2-run shot and then walk the ensuing batter, leaving a little bit of a jam for Rafael Betancourt to clean up.

During that game, Troy Renck tweeted the following:

@TroyRenck: Jimenez has eight Ks and 105 pitches through seven innings. In line now for a complete game.

When I saw that particular tweet, I felt my left eyebrow bury itself in my scalp in skepticism regarding this decision. 7 innings, 105 pitches, going for the CG? Are you crazy? We have a 3-run lead, pull him!

It's like icing on a cake of wonder that is Jimenez this year. He's been so otherworldly good, you just want to put him out there for another inning so that his ERA gets even lower. It's such a strange thing to watch that at least in my mind, when he starts, I'm completely losing perspective on the entire point of why he's doing what he's doing, which is to keep opposition off of the board so that the team can win games. Whenever Ubaldo starts, I want his miniscule ERA to stay miniscule so he can somehow surpass Gibson's 1.12 ERA from 1968, or at least Pedro Martinez' 1.74 ERA from 2000. I don't want to see him become human again, and merely post a Quality Start.

Sunday, Ubaldo had 105 pitches through 7 innings and a 3-run lead. That means it would be up to Rafael Betancourt, Manuel Corpas, and possibly some combination of Randy Flores, Joe Beimel, and Matt Daley to get us through 2 innings without surrendering 3 runs, thereby getting the team the Win and adding another W to Ubaldo's season.

Instead, AceBaldo was trotted out for the 8th inning and suddenly there was a jam on our hands. By writing this, I'm not trying to feed the "WELL IT WAS BOUND TO HAPPEN BABIP REGRESSES TO MEAN NORMALIZE HOMERS XFIP PREVAILS" fire, I just mean that there was no reason to inflate his pitch count. The team gave him a 3-run lead. Give him a rest already.

When facing Lincecum, I more or less understand that there's some pride there, in completely dominating the Giants and beating their reigning Cy Young award-winning Ace. Again, with a 4-run lead, I pull him after that amazing 8, give him a bit of a break (you know, only 103 pitches). Tonight, I pull him after his magnificent 7 and give him a break at 105 pitches. But then again, if I'm only trying to keep his ERA at record-setting levels, I'm just being selfish or something (yes, I do have Ubaldo on a fantasy team) and not keeping the best interests of the team in mind. Or am I?

I feel like my reasoning isn't so far off base. I want to preserve his stupidly low ERA. I also want to preserve his stupidly overworked right arm. That's why I'm all about pulling him and going to the pen for 2 innings. I understand that the pen gets worked a bit harder on days where non-Ubaldo people are pitching, but isn't that pretty standard for the other 29 baseball teams? That their pitching staff isn't all going to give them 8IP/start and their bullpen is going to have to eat innings? What makes us different?

I guess today just sent me a lot of warning signs, put up a lot of red flags, and just generally concerned me. Before Sunday, Ubaldo was already leading the majors in Pitcher Abuse Points, and then when he was put in for his ill-advised (you know, if I was advising them) 8th inning of work, he pumped out another 15, didn't record an out, and began to show signs that he's, you know, human. He was losing the strike zone. He gave up (gasp!!) runs. He actually hurt our chances of winning with that homer and the ensuing walk. Arizona has done a good job of squeezing blood from the desert stones and coming up with runs from nowhere. That one run lead looked a LOT scarier than the 3-run lead the inning began with.

Here's my final point (well, knowing me, my "final point" will ramble for another 500 words or so). Jim Tracy is doing both the team and Ubaldo a disservice by continuing to overwork our Ace. To be fair though, I can't really blame him for it - I'm pretty sure that the other 29 managers in baseball would be doing the same thing. That doesn't make it acceptable, however. He's starting to show signs of wear in the later innings, he's hardly as dominant, and frankly, I'm concerned he's getting worn down already.

If we go back to those 3 reasons to push a pitcher, the #2 reason was "but the kid really wants it". Well, this is the time where Tracy needs to stop pandering to ego (no matter whose it is) and start thinking about the big picture. We've been spoiled with the fact that we've won every Ubaldo start minus one and are just expecting him to keep destroying batters at an unsustainable rate (mind you, I'm not necessarily saying he WON'T keep it up, just that he might start looking a bit more human sooner than later) and the bats to give us just enough to keep us ahead by the point that Ubaldo is done pitching for the day. I know he's a young hungry competitor or whatever, but it's not Tracy's job just to keep him happy.

Up until this point, it's just been rainbows and butterflies for Ubaldo Jimenez. But we're into June now, and I am strongly of the opinion that playtime is over. He threw a no-hitter. He shut down his major division rival. He threw 128 pitches in both of those starts. We've had our fun watching the mastery and constant zeroes and the history and that one pitch that was awesome beyond all comprehension. It's time to start thinking down the line a little bit.

Every game we play certainly counts, and June wins are just as important as September wins. But I see this as starting to hit the point of "want" versus "need". Do we need Ubaldo to throw 120 pitches with a 3-run lead? No, we don't. It'd look good on paper to cram another inning into his daily statline, but it's completely unnecessary.

Fact is that Ubaldo is not and will never be Roy Halladay. He can't twirl complete games in 97 pitches. He's just not that pitcher. The reality of it is that to keep Ubaldo in that 110 pitch range, he's going to top out around the 7th inning. Frankly, that's fine by me. I'm not going to complain if 110 is Ubaldo's 100 and we only need the bullpen for 2 innings in his starts. Because our bullpen can handle 2 innings. No problem.

This is the point where Jim Tracy needs to be the bad guy. There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of Ubaldo's over-the-top-pitchcount starts are a result of Tracy asking him how he feels and Ubaldo saying he wants more. Of course he wants more. If he didn't want more he wouldn't be the absurdly good pitcher that he is. But here's the bigger question: Do you want the 8th inning in June, or do you want the 7th inning in August? A tired arm leads to more overthrowing which leads to more 3-ball counts, which leads to 6IP, 4BB, 7K, 3ER. Is being an overworked monster stud in June exclusive to being a similar overworked monster stud in August? Not necessarily, but I'm pretty comfortable with saying that overworking him during the first half will lead to worse pitching in the second half.

So Tracy, it's time to not worry about being Ubaldo's buddy in this aspect. 7IP, 105 pitches? Good work kid, grab a seat and we'll close this puppy out for you. Get through the 7th on 92 pitches next time and we'll talk about the 8th then. You've done your good work for the day, there's no reason to keep putting our Ace out in situations where you're not needed.

Because nobody wants a noodle arm come October.