Can Tribe Count on Ubaldo?

Going into the 2012 season, most experts agreed that the Cleveland Indians best chance to contend for the post-season was for Ubaldo Jimenez to have a big season.

The big right-hander, acquired from Colorado at the trade deadline last season, could form a formidable one-two punch with Justin Masterson, giving the Tribe two solid starting pitchers.

Right now, having Jimenez put together two consecutive quality starts would be a victory.

Hopefully, the mechanical adjustment discussed in today’s The Plain Dealer will fix the former Rockie.  But if this doesn’t work, it is looking more and more like GM Chris Antonetti didn’t get the ace he thought he was getting.

There is no question Jimenez’ velocity has dipped in recent years.  That could be a mechanical issue, an injury to his shoulder, or just age.

According to Baseball Prospectus.com, Jimenez’ average fastball was close to 98 MPH in 2007, his rookie year.  It has steadily dropped to 96 MPH in 2010, to 94 MPH in ’11, to 93 MPH this season.

Still, there are plenty of pitchers who don’t throw 95 MPH that win consistently in the big leagues.

The bigger problem is throwing strikes with regularity.

Ubaldo has never had pinpoint control.  In recent years, he’s walked 3.7 batters per nine innings.  Not exactly a Greg Maddux like figure.

However, it’s not really a problem because he’s averaged around 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings.  And if you can strikeout twice as many as you walk, it’s one of the signs you are a good pitcher.

He also has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched, another sign of being effective on the mound.

Even last year, in his 11 starts with the Indians, which no one is labeling as a success, Jimenez allowed 68 hits in 65-1/3 innings, and struck out 62 while walking only 27 hitters.

So far, this year he has not put up those kinds of numbers.

The hits per innings pitched isn’t too bad, he’s allowed 30 hits in 28-2/3 innings, although that figure is helped by throwing seven, one hit frames in his first start.

The biggest negative factor is the walks.  He’s allowed 20 bases on balls against just 14 strikeouts.  It was pointed out that it took him 92 pitches on Tuesday before a Chicago hitter swung and missed.  That’s disturbing.

If you walk hitters without the ability to strike anybody out, you have big troubles ahead.  That’s where Jimenez is.

The inability to find the strike zone also means the righty can’t get deep into games.

This year, he hasn’t been able to get through six innings in a start since his first start in the second game of the season.  Josh Tomlin is a guy who pretty much is a six inning pitcher.

There’s nothing wrong with Tomlin, he’s a good solid starter.  But to be sure, the Tribe front office certainly expected more when they traded for Jimenez last July.

So far, he hasn’t delivered it.  He’s more of a back of the rotation starter, right now he’s kind of a Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona) clone.  Manny Acta can’t be sure what kind of outing he’s going to get when Jimenez toes the rubber.

It’s tough to win and count on a player when his level of performance goes up and down.

It’s still early and there is plenty of time for Jimenez to get straightened out and have a solid season for the Indians.  His next start will be Sunday and here’s hoping the adjustment works out.

Because he’s facing one of the AL’s best hitting teams in the Texas Rangers.  A tough test for a pitchers who is trying to get himself on the right track.

MW

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