Two years ago, few could have predicted the fall that awaited Ubaldo Jimenez. The 26-year-old (at the time) was coming off his best season, a season that saw him win 19 games and post a 2.88 ERA while pitching in Coors Field of all places. These numbers impressed voters of all kinds; fans put him in what is to date his only All-Star game, and baseball writers gave him enough NL Cy Young consideration for a third place finish.
Things went downhill very quickly, however, and Jimenez found himself pitching for the Indians by the middle of the very next season. Instead of finding traction in a change of scenery situation, the numbers have gotten worse and worse ever since. Jimenez was barely more than a replacement level starter in 2012, and he saw his strikeout numbers drop all the way down to 7.3 K/9 while watching his walk rate climb all the way to 4.8 BB/9. While his 2011 season (3.6 WAR, 3.67 FIP) was a disappointment at the time, it’s really 2012 that raises the truly alarming flags.
Jimenez’s velocity is down — way down — from its 2010 point (95.8); his average fastball velocity was just 92.5 in 2012, and for a guy that once averaged 96.7, that drop is pretty severe. Consequently, hitters aren’t chasing as many of his out of the zone offerings, and they’re squaring up the ball against him regularly, something that just didn’t happen in 2009-10, his peak seasons. Indeed, there’s much to be worried about when it comes to the downward trajectory Jimenez is on, but he’s still young enough to recapture his success in theory, and it’s certain many teams are hoping to buy low.
Enter the Padres. They’ve been linked to various free agent starters all offseason so far, but general manager Josh Byrnes has been quoted as saying that a trade would make much more sense, as that would allow his team to avoid paying exorbitant prices for talent. Jimenez, who is getting far fewer ground ball outs these days, may in fact benefit from moving to such an extreme pitcher’s park, but he can no longer be considered a top shelf starter. Should San Diego be able to wrangle him loose from the Indians for a modest return, he’s a worthy reclamation project, but at this point something seems very wrong with the once promising starter.