Ubaldo Jimenez: Tread lightly

Kevin C. Cox

The new Orioles hurler is coming off a ridiculous second half. How much of it is for real?

It takes a lot for me to change my mind. I insisted 24 was a good show well into its "Oh god, Jack Bauer is invincible" stage, and am still eager for its return in May. It can mean that I'm late to the boat when someone like Chris Davis develops his power stroke, or I hold on too long to a guy like Tim Lincecum, but it also means I'm not the one falling all over some small-sample-size wonder.

Little up, little down, sure. Totally cop to that. And it can make me one hell of a wet blanket when guys like Ubaldo Jimenez bounce back to decent performance for a few weeks.

Anyone paying attention is aware of the warning signs about Jimenez entering 2014 (and entering Baltimore). The rest of you will get the quick breakdown now: Jimenez was one of the most successful (which does not mean "best," but you'd be pardoned for reading it that way) pitchers in baseball as a Rockie in 2010, when he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 221.2 innings. He outperformed his FIP and xFIP those years, and posted a full-season-career-best BABIP against, sure, but it was by any measure at least a good year, if not a great one.

From there until the middle of last year, Jimenez was ... not as good. He led the American League in losses in 2012. He ended the first half of last season with a 4.56 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 1.77. After the All-Star Game, though, Jimenez recaptured some sort of magic or something, putting up a 1.82 ERA and bumping that K:BB ratio to 3.71 over the second half. In September, he went 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA, and that K:BB went all the way to 7.29. After looking like a prime candidate for a minor-league deal with a spring-training invite, Jimenez parlayed that second half into a four-year, $50 million deal with Baltimore.

Look at those numbers a little closer. Yeah, any team can do anything on any day, but look at that September again. In six starts, he faced the White Sox (twice), Twins, Astros, Royals, and Orioles. Other than Baltimore, every team finished in the bottom half in baseball in runs scored. The Twins, Astros, and White Sox were all 26th or worse. Yeah, anyone can do anything, but even the Chicago Bears will pretty much always beat the Notre Dame football team, you know?

On top of that, Jimenez either figured out a new way to pitch, or got crazy lucky in that second half. He gave up all of three home runs in the second half, despite 120-some fly balls (I've seen conflicting numbers on the fly-ball total, but yeah, it was a bunch). That's approximately as unsustainable as is possible.

To be fair, Jimenez's velocity crept up over the course of 2013, with numbers in the 89s and 90s in April sitting in the 91s and 92s in September. So improvement might not be a shock. But still, grains of salt are all over the place.

Now, Jimenez is an Oriole, and as such, faces an Oriole schedule. That's a lot of games against (and in) Boston, against (and in) New York, against (and in) Toronto and Tampa Bay. Heck, home games in Baltimore are significantly less pitcher-friendly than home games in Cleveland.

And that's all just been Jimenez's real value. What about fantasy?

Since his strong 2010, Jimenez has put up a 1.45 WHIP, including a 1.33 last year. Even when he's good, he walks guys - he walked 3.9 per 9 innings last year. And even last year, when he had the best K/9 of his career, Jimenez was only good enough for 28th in baseball in strikeouts. Regress that any reasonable amount, and you're down to hoping for wins and a fluky ERA for most of his value.

Jimenez ranks 54th in our consensus rankings at starting pitcher. I had him 75th, and I forgot to go back and adjust my rankings after A.J. Burnett confirmed his return for 2014; had I done so, Jimenez wouldn't be ranked on my list at all.

24 was a revelation in its debut season. Then it regressed, struggled, before having a resurgence in Season 5. But it was a blip, because the show faded back to mediocrity for the next three seasons. Ubaldo Jimenez in September 2013 was 24 Season 5. Odds are, Ubaldo Jimenez in Baltimore in 2014 will be 24 Season 8.

Just please, Ubaldo, no Freddie Prinze Jr.

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