In a season chock-full of disappointments, the biggest and most indicative of the 2011 Rockies was a guy that nearly won the Cy Young award the year before, and less than a year later, was no longer in the organization.
Trouble was on the horizon as early as the first week of spring training, when Rockies' ace Ubaldo Jimenez struggled through two innings in the team's debut game in their brand new training facility. Shortly thereafter, he was scratched from a start with a cuticle issue on his throwing hand. That, in addition to vacationing during the offseason instead of pitching in winter ball as he was accustomed to doing, likely caused him to not be able to build up the arm strength that he normally possessed coming out of spring training. A second warning sign came in a March 16th outing against the White Sox in which he was shelled for seven runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings, and the bad outing accompanied already existing reports of decreased velocity.
Despite everyone surrounding the ballclub saying all the right things about Ubaldo's health and velocity, opening day 2011 marked the third and most disastrous warning sign, almost from the very moment Jimenez lobbed an 89 mile-per-hour fastball over the plate on the game's first pitch. The D-Backs would tag him for six runs on seven hits in six innings, while Jimenez only picked up one strikeout. After the game, Arizona catcher Miguel Montero said it all:
"I noticed when he threw me a couple of fastballs, it was kind of weird...I don't know, honestly. I don't think he was throwing that hard. I wonder if he's all right."
Jimenez, whose fastball never exceeded 95 in that game and was sitting around 91-92, landed on the disabled list after that start with an apparent aggravation of the cuticle injury that he suffered early in spring training. In his return on April 19th, he took his first loss of the season while allowing four runs on six hits in five frames against the Giants. He struggled to find his traction throughout the next month and a half, and at the end of May he was the shameful owner of an 0-5 record, a 5.86 ERA, and many whispers of pouting over not receiving the type of contract extension that fellow star teammates Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez received prior to the season.
More after the jump...
I am a firm believer that Jimenez did not have the arm strength needed for him to be effective early in the season, and that is clearly evident when you look at his numbers for June and July. Arbitrary as the starting and ending points may be, from June 1st until his final game in a Rockies uniform, Jimenez was his old self (from a numbers perspective, at least - the fastball velocity was still down). In those starts, he went 6-4 with a 3.03 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 71 to 17. Furthermore, he averaged about 6.5 innings per start, which was a marked improvement from where he was during the season's first two months.
However, as Ubaldo was finding his footing, Dan O'Dowd and the Rockies' front office were battling concerns over his long-term health and effectiveness, as well as drooling at the possibility of landing several top prospects were they to deal their ace. Finally, after what seemed like a never-ending onslaught of rumors, Jimenez was dealt to the Cleveland Indians for three top pitching prospects (Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Joe Gardner) and a minor-league utility guy (Matt McBride). The deal originally did not include Gardner and the Rockies were likely trying to get one of Lonnie Chisenhall or Jason Kipnis, so perhaps as a bargaining ploy, they sent Jimenez to the mound while the negotiations were being finished - a move that angered many Rockies fans and others around baseball. The one thing I will never forget is seeing the look on his face while he was out there laboring through the first inning - and the look was one of shock, confusion, and uncertainty.
Finally, after completing the inning following allowing four runs on two hits and four walks, the trade went through and we were left with the images of Ubaldo hugging his manager and teammates, then departing for Cleveland. For what it's worth, the Rockies won the game 10-6.
Ubaldo Jimenez would finish the season with a 10-13 record, and 4.69 ERA (92 ERA+) and 3.5 WAR, a huge drop-off from 2010's 19-8, 2.88 (161), 6.4, despite having roughly the same strikeout and walk peripherals that he had during the two previous years. If Ubaldo is indeed 100% healthy, he will have learned a valuable lesson - that preparation and routine are everything, and that disrupting them can cause disastrous results.
Grade: D+. If not for a strong finish to his Rockies career, this would have easily been an F. However, the stories of him not putting in the work prior to the season, the contract-extension pouting, and diminished velocity (95.8 to 93.9) weighed heavily into my grade.
2012: The upcoming season is a huge one for Jimenez. He pitched in winter ball, perhaps learning from his mistake from the previous offseason. However, he has a lot to prove as far as getting his velocity back to where it was before 2011, as well as showing that he can hold up against American League lineups. I, for one, will continue to root for the first (and only) true ace the Rockies have ever had.