Ubaldo Jimenez: Fantastic, or Fantastically Lucky?


Earlier this afternoon I wrote a post on Dan Haren, and how he was not nearly as bad as his standard numbers indicated. This got me thinking about another player who is actually doing the reverse, he is much worse than his standard numbers indicate, Ubaldo Jimenez.

Make no mistake, Jimenez is a great pitcher having a great year, and before I even start on how he’s been lucky, I’d like to take a look at why he is so much better this year than he was last year.

Fastball- Last year Jimenez threw his fastball 63% of the time, at an average of 96.1 MPH, and it was 11.4 runs above average, an excellent score. This year Jimenez is throwing his fastball only 60% of the time, but he is throwing it at 96.5 MPH (which is a fairly significant difference) and it is 18.8 runs above average. He is using his fastball less, throwing it harder, and it has been more effective.

Slider- Last year he threw his slider 18% of the time, at 86.3 MPH, and it was 15 runs above average, way up there with the best in the league. This year he is throwing his slider 14% of the time, at 87.3 MPH, but it is only 1.5 runs above average. Quite an odd case here, as he is throwing his slider much harder and not as much, but it is much less effective. So it’s not his slider that his made him so much better this year.

Curveball- Last year Jimenez threw his curve 8% of the time, at 77.6 MPH, and it was 1.1 runs below average. This year Jimenez threw his curve 10% of the time, at 79 MPH, and it was only 0.6 runs below average. So while his curve got slightly better, it still was not good, not even average.

Change up- Last year Jimenez threw his change 12% of the time, at 86.8 MPH, and it was 9.6 runs above average. This year Jimenez is throwing his change 17% of the time, at 88 MPH (which is not a good thing that it got harder),  and it is 7 runs above average. So it’s not his change up either, as he is throwing it more than last year, but to less success.

So to summarize, he is throwing his fastball harder, using it less, and it has been much more effective this year. He is throwing his slider harder, using it less, but it has been not nearly as effective. He is using his curve more, throwing it harder, and it has been slightly better, but it is still not a good pitch. Finally, he is throwing his change much more, throwing it harder, and it has not been as good. So why has he been so much better this year than last year? It can’t all be his fastball, can it? Well, actually that might account for some of it. While he throws four pitchers consistently, he throws his fastball 60% of the time, more than half the time. So a significant jump in how his fastball is doing could very well account for some of the success he is having. However, a large portion of how he is doing is luck. Let’s look at three metrics that will show us how lucky a pitcher has been.

LOB%- This metric measures the percentage of men left on base by pitchers. The league average of LOB% is 70%. Last year Jimenez LOB% was 73.5 % just above league average. However, this year it has been an absurd 91.3%, by far the highest in the majors, indicating just how lucky he has been.

BABIP- This metric shows hitters batting average on balls in play. The league average of BABIP is right around .305. However, Jimenez has an incredibly low BABIP of .232, second in the majors only to Ted Lilly. Last year Jimenez had a BABIP of .290, again just luckier than league average.

xFIP- Finally we look at xFIP. I used this in my earlier post explaining how unlucky Haren has been, and now I use it to show just how lucky Jimenez has been. xFIP factors in ballpark advantage and fielding, meaning that the xFIP will be significantly higher than ERA. Like ERA, the lower the xFIP, the better. The MLB leader in xFIP is Roy Halladay at 2.90. Guess where Jimenez ranks in xFIP, after all his ERA is absurdly low, shouldn’t his xFIP be so too? Maybe 2nd, 3rd, possibly as low as 4th? Nope, his xFIP stands at 3.60, good for 15th in the Majors.

So while Jimenez is having a historic year this year, it’s in large part due to the fact that he is historically lucky.

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4 Responses to Ubaldo Jimenez: Fantastic, or Fantastically Lucky?

  1. Nate says:

    This article smacks of an author who seeks to dissect a baseball player’s performance through sheer will of statistics. I wonder how many times you’ve actually watched Ubaldo pitch…

    Statistics-driven analysis is a cop-out at best. Without taking into account the full picture, you’re just pushing numbers. Could it be that Jimenez pitches up in man-on situations? Could his BABIP be a product of excellent location? (Low in the zone or below, inducing tons of grounders, one of the best ground-to-fly ratios in the league.) And xFIP is one of those reach statistics that seeks to extract meaning by piling disparate stats on top of each other. Ubaldo is a great situational pitcher who would sooner give up a walk than spot up a hittable pitch on a 3-2. His job is to stop the other team from scoring, not to keep runners off the basepads at all costs.

    To summarize: analyzing stats is not analyzing a player. Stats are merely tendencies, which paint (in the best cases) an incomplete picture of actual performance.

    • mlbprospects says:

      Fair point, and yes I know Jimenez is unbelievably good (after all he does throw 100), I’m just giving my take on it. Yes, it is possible that Jimenez is just a gamer and really does do better in clutch situations. If you want me to analyze his mechanics, they’re almost perfect, the only thing he ever does wrong is he sometimes flies open too fast which is when he gets wild. So yeah, Jimenez is definitely an ace, and there have been pitchers who can consistently stay lucky, and at a certain point that becomes no longer luck, but this is Jimenez’s first year doing something like this, so let’s not good ahead of ourselves.

      I appreciate the comment,
      Ben

  2. Nate says:

    My apologies if I was a little edgy in my previous comment…

    You see, we’ve never had a true ace in Colorado before (Francis was close, but he lacks a truly dominant pitch.) It’s been a real pleasure watching Ubaldo come up in the organization, work through his struggles early in a career that started late (didn’t start pitching until his teens), and then blossom into the kind of pitcher that can platoon a solid rotation.

    Ironically, I just wrote a purely stat-driven article about fixing in the NBA Finals on my blog. Makes me quite the hypocrite!

    Speaking of luck, though, without a couple of bad breaks in his one loss at LA, Jimenez would be undefeated right now.

    Ian.

    • mlbprospects says:

      It’s fine, I understand your position. I’m a Yankees fan, and if Hughes was having this kind of year and someone wrote a post like that about my favorite pitcher I’d be pretty livid too.

      Hope you keep reading the blog, Ben

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