04 January 2017

Has Ubaldo Jimenez Always Struggled In The First Inning?

The calendar has now flipped to 2017, and the Orioles continue to bide their time with respect to offseason transactions. After several years into the Dan Duquette era, it’s something that is unsurprising, yet still frustrating. Without any news or even rumors of substance to inspire, expand on, or elaborate, relevant blog post topics can be in short supply*. So this week, I turned to the beat writers in an attempt to manufacture some inspirado and provide an idea to discuss as I arrived closer to my soft deadline to post an article.

*Note: This sentence was written before the news of the Jesus Montero signing

I found it when reading over Roch Kubatko’s Orioles New Year Resolution article, which ran Monday, as it contained a hypothetical resolution for Ubaldo Jimenez. As Kubatko points out, Jimenez had trouble being effective in the first inning of his starts in 2016. So I thought I would try to take the relatively simple route of trying to explore whether this has been a problem for him in the past, with the hope that it may help us frame expectations in 2017. This was put together pretty quickly, so it’s not very scientific (and possibly not even all that original), but who knows, it may be interesting. It’s not like there is a well of noteworthy Orioles news occurring at the moment.

As you can see from the table below (and from watching games), the first inning was extremely painful for Jimenez in 2016. The table also shows that the other innings were not all that great either.

2016 Performance of Ubaldo Jimenez in Inning 1 Compared to Innings 2-9 (click image to enlarge)

First off, it’s obvious that there are sample size issues here when comparing the two data sets because of their different sizes. I’m not going to do anything about it because this is just for fun. If you’re able to make it to the very last column in that table, you will have noticed that every metric in the first inning was notably much worse than innings 2 through 9 (except the GB/FB ratio, although more of those flyballs in the first inning were landing on the wrong side of the fence). How bad was Jimenez in the first inning? Every batter he faced was basically Mike Trout, but better (Jimenez 1st inning wOBA against of 0.428 is higher than Trout’s career wOBA of 0.409). Without digging down into the details, the poor guy even appeared to have worse luck in the first inning based on these numbers (look at that BABIP!).

Jimenez’s extremely poor performance in the first inning seems counterintuitive for two reasons. One, he has not started tiring yet, and two, opposing batters are seeing him for the first time (although this is just conjecture). Before we discuss this any further though, let’s move on and see if the rest of his career mirrors his 2016 performance.

Career Performance of Ubaldo Jimenez in Inning 1 Compared to Innings 2-9 (click image to enlarge)

Jimenez made his MLB debut in 2006, but he only faced a TOTAL of 30 batters, so I decided to exclude that data. There is a lot going on in that table, so let’s look at a figure that shows how his ERA and FIP compare to each other and change from the first inning compared to innings 2 through 9 over the different seasons of his career.

Click image to enlarge

That’s a little bit easier on the eyes (I think). Jimenez is all over the map here, showing some wild swings between performances in the first inning and the rest of the game throughout his career. And while the 2016 season took it to the extreme, there have been previous years where he’s had trouble at the beginning of the game, although his FIP in those years is either in sharp contrast to his ERA (2007 and 2009) or relatively stable (2012). Additionally, he’s had several other seasons where his production in the 1st inning compared to the others has not varied much.

The fact that Jimenez’s delivery is so complicated means he could require more time than a normal pitcher to find his mechanics and get settled in, but I’m not sure that alone can account for such a large difference in performance. The issues that Jimenez experienced in the first inning in 2016 were serious, but it was also just 24.1 innings. Additionally, he had a pretty big issue with innings 2-9 as well. Based on this limited (and unscientific) look, I don’t think there is strong evidence suggesting that Jimenez needs to specifically pitch better in the first inning compared to the others. He just needs to pitch better, period.

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