27 February 2014

Postcards From Abroad: The Rashomon of Ubaldo Jimenez

They Each Saw Something Different
We here at Camden Depot are a part of a wonderful community of bloggers under the ESPN Sweetspot umbrella.  It sometimes lets us work with some pretty remarkable blogs that focus on other clubs.  One of them, It's Pronounced Lajaway, is a Cleveland Indians blog that is perhaps one of the best team centered blogs out there.  They do a great job catering to the masses as well as providing a lot of insight.  We thought it might be good to give a little more perspective about Ubaldo Jimenez beyond what we have done so far with scouting and media reports on him.

It's Pronounced Lajaway was kind enough to provide us with three different perspectives of Ubaldo Jimenez.  A Rashomon style, if you will.


Stephanie Liscio, co-owner, It’s Pronounced Lajaway     

I always liked Ubaldo Jimenez, dating back to his days with the Colorado Rockies.  I feel like a lot of fans in Cleveland never fully warmed to Jimenez, or always waited for the other shoe to drop when he was scheduled to pitch.  From the moment he was traded to the Indians, there was this perception that he must be damaged goods.  That the Rockies would never surrender Jimenez after his 2010 season unless there was some flaw that the Indians couldn’t see.  (There’s not exactly an overabundance of faith when it comes to the front office, particularly after the Cliff Lee trade). 

At the trade deadline in 2011, I was cautiously optimistic on the Jimenez deal.  The Indians had a poor track record on drafts through the early 2000s, so I wasn’t ready to declare the trade’s centerpieces, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, sure things.  I was haunted by Adam Miller, a highly touted prospect who dealt with major hand issues and never pitched a day in the majors.  To have a player with a proven track record in the majors, even if he’d fallen on hard times, seemed like a much more sure bet.

Once Jimenez arrived in 2011 though, the Indians soon fell out of contention.  By 2012, he was so inconsistent and erratic that you never knew what to expect when he was scheduled to take the mound.  I used to jokingly flip a coin before his starts – heads it would be a good day for Jimenez, tails it would be a bad day.  Even though I’d think to myself “Oh boy, here we go again” during his starts, I still defended him.  Part because I was convinced there was something wrong with him and part because I felt he could somehow be “fixed.”  My husband and father went to a fan event that summer and all of the players had at least a small autograph line, except for Jimenez.  They actually went back to get a second autograph because, according to my dad, “He was so nice, and he was just sitting there all by himself.”  It’s like Jimenez somehow took the brunt of the fan anger, even though there was plenty of blame to go around during the summer of 2012.

By the time 2013 rolled around, I actually saw a lot of Indians fans angrily exclaiming that he should be released; that they should just eat his salary and let him go.  That seemed like a pretty ridiculous option to me, but I understood the frustration behind the sentiment.  As Jimenez continued to improve as the season progressed, my faith in him continued to grow.  However, I encountered so many fans that were still furious with the trade, and that still thought the Indians should release Jimenez.  “Have you watched him pitch lately?”  I’d ask, or I’d share recent statistics with them.  Once they finally stopped complaining (because he was pitching too well for valid complaints) they still didn’t really seem to love him – they just grudgingly accepted him.  I don’t think too many people were sad to see him go, because they never grew that attached to him.  It was just the standard bitterness you often see from Cleveland fans, because of the idea that someone leaves once they finally seem to hit their stride.

Ultimately, I am glad that the Indians trade for Jimenez in 2011.  Hindsight is obviously 20/20 where White and Pomeranz are concerned, but the whole objective for the trade was to make the playoffs.  While they didn't do it that season, the Indians don't make the 2013 Wild Card game without Jimenez as the ace down the stretch.  I went from dread at seeing him take the mound to wishing that he could pitch every day.  While I am sad to see him gone, there is still a small part of my brain that cannot help thinking "at least that ticking time bomb won't go off for the Indians in 2014".  It is hard to fully leave the 2012 paranoia behind.


IPL Staff Writer Adam Hintz

Here at IPL, I was probably the most vocal supporter of the Indians re-signing Ubaldo. For the record, I think 4 years/$48 million is probably a great deal (if not a year longer than my dream contract), and I absolutely wish that the Indians had signed him at that price.

I think it was about mid-September of last season when I realized that the Ubaldo Jimenez who was trotting out to that mound every 5th day was the best pitcher we had at that time. To say that this revelation was shocking would be something of an understatement; Ubaldo was bad in 2011, downright atrocious in 2012, and depressingly ineffective through the first three months of last season. At one point last June I started referring to Jimenez as “the best bad pitcher in the league” given his propensity to give up 2 runs over five innings and somehow need 110 pitches to get through it. It was painful to watch.

But then something happened, and Ubaldo morphed back into an ace. Here in Cleveland a lot of the credit has gone to pitching coach Mickey Callaway, but there’s something to be said for the schedule Ubaldo faced in the second half as well as some inevitable positive regression to the mean. For my part, I’m not completely sure what happened, but the change was dramatic.

On July 14th, Ubaldo gave up 4 earned runs over 4.0 IP against the Royals. Through the end of the season, he did not allow more than 3 earned runs in any start (and he only did that once). He gave up five earned runs in all of September… it doesn’t even matter that half of his innings that month came against the White Sox and Astros, that’s impressive. If the Indians had made the Divisional Series, I have a hard time imagining that any pitcher except Ubaldo would have been on the mound to start Game 1.

But of course, the reason that teams weren’t lining up around the block to give Ubaldo ace money is because he is only a year removed from that god-awful 5.40 ERA in 2012, and he barely looked better than that for half of 2013. Teams didn’t know (and really still don’t know) which pitcher they’re going to get in 2014 and beyond.

I want to believe in Jimenez, but history has taught me otherwise. I think he’s well worth the risk that the Orioles took on him, but there is a very real possibility that he regresses back to 2012 mode and that $48 million becomes a pretty big sunk cost. I guess it all comes down to expectations: if your team just signed Ubaldo to be the centerpiece of their rotation, I fear it’s not going to end very well; but if your team just signed him to be a quality #2 guy in a deep rotation, that is a role he can certainly thrive in relative to expectations.

Overall, I’m okay with Jimenez leaving, but I reserve the right to change my mind if Trevor Bauer proves incapable of walking fewer than 8.5 hitters per nine innings (like he did in the Majors last year). I still feel like the Indians needed Ubaldo more than they realize, but our loss is your gain.

I really hope we don’t regret it.


IPL Staff Writer Chris Burnham 

I'll be honest. I'm not an Ubaldo guy. And his deal with your Orioles is proof of how the pitching market is out of control. But hopefully I won't scare your readers too much. Ubaldo Jimenez is the exemplary "enigmatic pitcher." So much so, that I would think that the best way to describe him would be to borrow from a legendary anecdote from Forrest Gump: He's like a box of chocolates, and you never know what you're going to get.

His time in Cleveland was mostly a disappointment. Even on the day in which the deal was consummated, the Rockies got the whole thing off on the wrong foot by allowing Jimenez to start that evening in San Diego. This, of course, set Cleveland (a scarred bunch, as you undoubtedly know) into a tizzy about "protecting the investment," and all this jazz because he was Chris Antonetti's own "Lee/Sizemore trade." The Indians were banking on the change of scenery thing actually working out and he would be the horse behind Justin Masterson. Or, even the guy who could potentially overtake Masterson as the true ace of a middling rotation, complete with his Cy Young pedigree and intoxicating stuff. The Indians gave up two of their top pitching prospects of the time, so they were expecting big things that, for the most part, never materialized.

(Those two pitchers were Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Pomeranz still hasn't established himself in the Rockies organization. White was traded to Houston. I guess you could say the Indians won the trade due to Jimenez making a late push towards better than average and having quite a bit to do with getting the Tribe into October for a fleeting nine innings.)

Unfortunately, Jimenez' tenure in Cleveland was mostly a disappointment with a horrific 9-17 2012 campaign in which he carried 5.40 ERA; this unsightly number feeling light considering the constant traffic he was allowing. We saw occasional flashes of what we were hoping we'd see, some of those starts were even dominant, but nothing really consistent until May of last year. New pitching coach Mickey Callaway seemed to find the right buttons to push to keep his wonky mechanics in check. He also told Jimenez to pare down his pitch-mix by relying more on his mid-90s fastball. Who knows what sort of voodoo Callaway tapped into to make it work, but he deserves a significant portion of the $50 million deal. Considering the number of pure hitters parks Jimenez will now face regularly within the AL East, Orioles fans had better hope that Callaway's tutelage have taken deep roots.


Great post from 2012 by IPL writer Ryan McCrystal that looked at what was going wrong with Ubaldo in 2012.

A few recent posts: 
IPL writer Mike Schreiner, Letting Go of Ubaldo
Stephanie Liscio, hoping the Orioles may match as a trade partner for pitching
Adam Hintz talks a bit more about his disappointment

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