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Ubaldominance
Ubaldo Jimenez is on his way to a legendary season
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
June 17, 2010



It's easy to get in trouble projecting a player's June stat line to a full season total.  Juan Gonzalez had 101 RBI in the first half of the 1998 season, and although he actually hit much better in the second half (.353 vs .293), he collected only 56 RBI after the break.  Ten years later, Chipper Jones had a .400 batting average on June 18, but hit "only" .320 the rest of the way to finish at .364.

Still, projecting June stat lines can be a lot of fun, and there's no stat line in baseball more fun to look at right now than that of Ubaldo Jimenez.  After 14 starts, the Rockies' ace is 13-1 with a 1.15 ERA.  It's time to consider whether Jimenez could possibly be heading towards one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time.

Assuming Jimenez makes 33 starts this season (matching his total from last year) and goes the whole year without taking a no-decision, his current .929 winning percentage projects to a 31-2 record.  Denny McLain became the only pitcher to win 30 or more games after World War II when he went 31-6 for the 1968 Tigers.  While the odds against Ubaldo matching those 31 wind are astronomical, it's worth noting that McLain is also the only pitcher to win more than 28 games after World War II and the only pitcher to win more than 27 games since Robin Roberts went 28-7 for the 1952 Phillies.  There have been only 24 instances of a pitcher winning 25 or more games in a single season since 1946 and only one in the past 30 years (Bob Welch, 1990).  The only pitcher in baseball history to win 25 games while pitching fewer than 35 games was Bill Donovan, who went 25-4 for the 1907 Tigers.

So if Ubaldo Jimenez can just win 12 of his next 20 starts, he will finish the season with 25 victories and join a very select group of players.  Of course, Bill Donovan, Bob Welch, and Denny McLain aren't exactly Hall of Fame pitchers.  Fortunately, Ubaldo J has more to hang his hat upon than gaudy win totals.  His 1.15 ERA, for instance.

Trivia Question
Who are the only three starting pitchers to post a sub-2.00 ERA in a DH league?
(Scroll down for answer)

That number instantly conjures comparisons with Bob Gibson's 1968 season, in which the Hall of Fame pitcher managed a 1.12 ERA for the Redbirds.  There have, in fact, been only 22 instances of a pitcher finishing the season with a sub-2.00 ERA while qualifying for the ERA title in the past 90 years.

The number of pitchers with a sub-2.00 ERA through June 17 is quite a bit higher, of course (Dan Haren had a sub-2.00 ERA on July 18 of last year, but finished with an ERA over 3.00).  In fact, we have three pitchers doing just that this season, with Jaime Garcia (1.59) and Josh Johnson (1.86) joining Mr. Jimenez.  But this article isn't only about Jimenez because Ubaldo is a much cooler name than Jaime or Josh is.  Ubaldo is superior in that he has not allowed an unearned run all season (Johnson has two and Garcia has four).  Plus, there is the little matter of Jimenez having made five of his 14 starts in the best ballpark for hitters since Baker Bowl.

Granted, Coors Field does not favor hitters as much as it did before the Rockies amped up their humidor usage in 2006.  But Denver's ballpark was still the best one in the majors for hitters between 2006 and 2009 and currently ranks second behind Yankee Stadium Mark III for 2010.  Baseball-Reference.com puts Ubaldo's league and park adjusted ERA (ERA+) at 393.  For comparison's sake, Josh Johnson has an ERA+ at 225 and Jamie Garcia comes in at 256.  Gibson's ERA+ in 1968 was 258.  No one has ever qualified for an ERA title and managed an ERA+ over 300 that season.

Now the matter of Jimenez having only made 36% of his starts this season at home does need to be addressed; obviously, we would expect that number to be 50%.  Ubaldo detractors (you know who you are) will mention that Jimenez' strikeout, walk, and groundball rates are nearly identical to the ones he posted last season, but that fewer hits are falling in (or in the case of this extreme groundball pitcher, rolling in).  It could well be that once Jimenez starts evening out his home/road starts, the hit rate will be closer to the 7.6 per nine innings he averaged last year than the 5.8 he has averaged this season.

Over the course of his career, however, Jimenez' hits per nine have been nearly identical at Coors as it has on the road.  His ERA at home has actually been better and his winning percentage at home has been drastically better (.657 to .553) due to all of the extra run support he gets from his teammates.  Because Jimenez gets so many of his outs on the ground, the thin air and spacious dimensions of Coors Field don't harm Jimenez the way they do the average pitcher.  If Jimenez plays more games at home than on the road the rest of the way, it probably won't hurt his ERA, and it will almost certainly help his quest to become the first pitcher in 30 years to win 25 games.

The scarcity of homers that Jimenez has allowed at Coors is staggering.  Last year, there was a home run hit every 32 at-bats at Coors Field, but Jimenez allowed one once every 54 at-bats there.  This year, he's allowed two homers in 120 at-bats at Coors, or one out of every 60.  Those homers were surrendered to Adam Dunn, who is one shy of the National League home run lead and who has averaged 41 dingers per season from 2004-2009, and Aaron Hill, who led all of baseball's second baseman with 36 homers last year and who has hit another nine so far this season.  Usually, anyone can hit a fluke homer in Coors Field.  Against Ubaldo, you need to be one of the best power hitters in the game.

Trivia Answer
Ron Guidry (1978), Roger Clemens (1990), and Pedro Martinez (2000)

Ubaldo Jimenez is no fluke.  He battled back from control problems last April to go 14-8 with a 3.05 ERA through the final 28 starts of 2009.  At 26-years old, it is safe to say that Jimenez is still improving.  No, he's not going to finish the season with 31 wins, a 1.15 ERA, and a 393 ERA+, but even if he finishes with 25 wins, a 1.50 ERA, and a 300 ERA+, this would still rank as one of the top pitching seasons of all-time, and arguably the very best ever.

Keep watching Ubaldo Jimenez this season, because we may be witnessing history.




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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