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« Scott Rolen's Vanishing Walk Rate | Main | Cano Versus Halladay »
Wednesday
Jul132011

Ubaldo Jimenez on the Market?

It's July, and you know what that means: trade rumors aplenty. The juiciest one yet came from Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi, who report that the Cincinnati Reds are interested in Colorado Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez.

Loaded as the Reds' farm system is with major league-ready talent, any deal involving Jimenez is a long shot. Colorado won't part easily with the 27-year-old right-hander, who ranks tenth among starters in Wins Above Replacement since the beginning of the 2009 season. He is signed to a contract that pays him just a fraction of what he would command on the free agent market: Jimenez will pull in $2.8 million this season, $4.2 million in 2012 and he has club options for $5.75 million in 2013 and $8 million in 2014, though he can void that '14 option if he's traded.

But, while Jimenez would no doubt bring back upper-echelon prospects, his performance in 2011 hasn't been on par with his pitching in 2009 and 2010. Perhaps that makes the Rockies more inclined listen to offers. Look at Ubaldo's Fielding-Independent ERA (FIP) over the past three seasons, compared to the league average:

Jimenez's 2011 FIP looks just slightly worse than his work in 2009 and 2010, right? But we have to consider that run-scoring has been down across the game over the past few years.  Take a look at the league average FIP -- it has fallen sharply in each of the past two seasons. That means that Jimenez's pitching, relative to his peers, hasn't been as good this year. His FIP was 27 percent and 28 percent better than average in 2009 and 2010, respectively, but his 2011 FIP is 16 percent above average. Still very good, but not the sort of mark that puts a guy in Cy Young contention.

Why hasn't Jimenez been as sharp this season? His fastball and slider appear to be the culprits. Here's how those two pitches have fared this year, compared to 2009 and 2010:

Both the fastball and slider are getting hit harder this year, especially the slider. And both pitches are garnering fewer misses and ground balls. Velocity could be a major factor: Jimenez's fastball, which averaged 96 MPH from 2009-2010, is down to 94 MPH in 2011. His slider averaged a little over 86 MPH in '09 and '10 but is at 83-84 MPH this season.

Jimenez hasn't thrown his fastball in on the hands of hitters near as much:

 Frequency of Jimenez's fastball location, 2009-2010

Frequency of Jimenez's fastball location, 2011

Thirty-seven percent of his heaters were thrown inside in 2009 and 2010, but that's down to 26 percent this year. Jimenez's ground ball rate with the fastball is typically highest on inside pitches. So that, along with the decrease in velocity, could explain the lower grounder rate.

With the slider, he's going down and away to right-handed batters less often:

Frequency of Jimenez's slider location, 2009-2010

Frequency of Jimenez's slider location, 2011

And when he has located the ball down and away, hitters have smoked it:

Jimenez's in-play slugging percentage with his slider, 2009-2010

Jimenez's in-play slugging percentage with his slider, 2011Jimenez still ranks on the short list of the game's best arms, he makes peanuts compared to what a free agent acquisition of his caliber would earn, and he has pitched better of late. Those factors make it likely that he'll continue to wear black and purple for years to come. But it's not totally out of the realm of possibility that the Rockies look at Jimenez's decreased velocity and performance and decide to sell, raiding another team's farm system in the process.                           

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