Ever since the controversial trade that brought him to Cleveland back in 2011, Ubaldo Jimenez has been something of an enigma to Indian fans. We were excited that the front office had finally decided to make a move for a player in order to contend at the trade deadline, but we were unhappy that Jimenez was the player in question. After a less than spectacular second half with the Indians in which he posted a 4-4 record and 5.10 ERA in 11 starts our worst fears were confirmed.
Jimenez was a bust and a shell of his former self. He no longer possessed the upper 90’s fastball that made him such a devastating force for the Rockies. Robbed of what made him special, Jimenez plummeted to mediocrity. Even worse, the Indians were still on the hook for at least two more seasons and possibly a third.
Fast forward to 2012 and already tumultuous relationship had down graded to full-blown disdain and borderline hatred. For as bad as Jimenez had been to close out the 2011 season, his 2012 was even worse. By season’s end he had posted a 9-17 record to go along with a 5.40 ERA, 4.8 BB/9, and 1.51 SO/BB. Not only had Jimenez gone from an upper 90’s flame thrower to a nitpicking garbage flinger, but he was no longer effectively wild. He was wild and it had a devastatingly negative impact on the results.
Now here we are in 2013. The Indians are only a half game out of a wild card berth and Jimenez has been one of the key reasons why. Under the guidance of new manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway, he has completely reinvented himself and in doing so has transformed himself back into a competent big league pitcher.
Utilizing a new process centered around pounding the zone and focusing on positive results while limiting opportunities for failure, as outlined early on by our very own Steve Kinsella, the early part of Jimenez’s 2013 was focused on rebuilding confidence in himself and his pitches through a series of small victories. Rather than forcing Jimenez to work his way through six OK innings, Francona and Callaway settled for four great innings if that’s all he had in the tank for that day.
The results were mixed, especially early on as Jimenez struggled to find himself. He turned in outings as deep as the sixth innings, but routinely handed the ball over in the fourth or fifth inning. On occasions when the wheels fell off Jimenez hit the showers by the second or third. Fans grew restless watching the bullpen labor its way through relief appearance after relief appearance, but all the while we were told the results would come. That there were signs that Jimenez was figuring things out.
We can officially say that has come.
Since the all-star break Jimenez has looked like a completely different pitcher than the one we saw earlier this season. Just look at the stats and it’s clear to see how a switch has flipped with Jimenez.
While the win-loss record is seemingly meaningless in the grand scheme of things, there are other numbers that are not. For instance, Jimenez has pitched with pin point control, allowing only 23 walks since the All-Star Break. He has also begun striking out batters at a rate that he wasn’t even reaching during his hey day in Colorado. His 10 SO/9 and 3.09 SO/BB are the highest of any point in his career.
Since the calendar flipped to September Jimenez has gone to a whole other level in terms of his performance. He’s not just putting together solid pitching performances. He’s been dominant.
With each and every start Jimenez is getting better. He is going deeper into games and limited opposing lineups to fewer and fewer run scoring opportunities. As you can see by the leverage index for each start, where 1.0 is signifies high leverage situations, Jimenez has made things easier on himself with each subsequent start. The biggest reason for this as previously mentioned, limiting his walks and scattering hits throughout the course of the game. It’s also helps that he is consistently hitting 93-94 MPH on the radar gun.
The biggest question of course is can Jimenez keep this going? Can he keep stringing together the types of quality pitching performances we have seen since the All-Star break and push the Indians into a Wild Card spot?
Based on current evidence the feeling around the Indians has to be yes. This isn’t a pitcher getting lucky. This is a pitcher controlling many of the things he is able to control. That’s something Jimenez never really did even when he was at his best. He simply hoped his fastball could get him out of any jam he fell into. Now he is pitching his way out of jams and out thinking the opposition. So when people say the old Jimenez is back, that’s just not the case. What we are seeing is a whole new Ubaldo Jimenez.
And how fitting would it be for Jimenez to guide the Indians to a playoff berth two seasons later than originally hoped? More importantly, how will Tribe fans react to this new and improved Jimenez if he catapults himself into Indians postseason lore? Sure we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but we can dare to dream, can’t we?