Ubaldo Jimenez's Struggles Are Legit

Elsa

The Orioles right-hander has had trouble adjusting to the rigors of the American League East, and while his two starts provide a small sample size, there's plenty of reason to believe that expecting a rebound is simply wishful thinking.

Moving to the typically hitter-friendly American League East is no easy task, but the challenge becomes especially magnified when coming from Progressive Field in Cleveland, the 9th-most pitcher friendly ballpark in the majors last season, per ESPN park data.

Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Baltimore Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez is attempting to do, and thus far, it’s not going swimmingly. In a pair of starts this season, Jimenez has allowed eight runs, all earned, in 10.2 innings. He’s also surrendered 13 hits, eight walks and a pair of homers over that span.

Translation: He’s struggled. Big time. But does that mean it’s time for fantasy owners to panic? Not necessarily.

The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo A. Encina wrote a solid post on Tuesday explaining that Jimenez’s early-season struggles are nothing new, and that he’s shown the ability to rebound in the past. Indeed, as Encina noted, Jimenez owns a 5.02 career ERA in April, a number that drops to 3.86 after that.

Examining the statistical data is all well and good, but there’s no guarantee the right-hander will continue the trend this season. That’s especially true when considering that all of that late-season improvement has come while pitching outside of the pitcher’s nightmare that is the AL East.

Yes, Jimenez has spent the bulk of his career pitching for the Rockies at Coors Field, another pitcher-inhibiting environment. However, I’d argue that it’s easier to pitch in that atmosphere against what was a light-hitting NL West at the time (2006-2011, the span of Jimenez’s career in Colorado) than in the AL East, with a slew off tough ballparks and essentially every team sporting an even tougher lineup.

In fact, three of the five AL East ballparks, including the Orioles’ own Camden Yards, rank among the top 10 most hitter-friendly parks in the majors, and three of the four other teams in the league (the Orioles excluded) ranked in the top 11 in runs scored in 2013. (The one team outside the top 11, the Yankees, added a fair share of firepower this offseason.)

In case I’m not making it blatantly clear to you, the AL East isn’t an ideal place to pitch, and Jimenez’s early struggles might be more a sign of what’s to come than simply a statistical anomaly.

But it’s not just unfortunate circumstance that bodes poorly for Jimenez. The right-hander has also seen a dramatic drop in his velocity over the past few seasons, as noted by SB Nation’s own Camden Chat. As author Ryan Pollack wrote, Jimenez’s fastball averaged just 91.2 MPH in his start against the Red Sox on April 2. That’s a number that isn’t likely to go up when examining the right-hander’s career trend, as Pollack noted.

Jimenez also struggled mightily location-wise within the strike zone in that game, though it’s been unusual for him to be in the strike zone at all given his eight walks in 10.2 innings this season.

One other point of significance: If Baltimore finds itself in the playoff hunt, a very viable (yet perhaps unlikely) possibility if all the pieces fall into place, Jimenez might have a short leash in the rotation. Before you laugh at the notion of the Orioles making a playoff push, consider just how good that lineup could look if Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters return to form. The addition of Nelson Cruz coupled with starter Miguel Gonzalez’s emergence last year also indicate good things for Baltimore this season.

Of course, a playoff run might be contingent upon Jimenez’s improved performance in the first place, but if the playoff seeds are planted in Baltimore, you can bet the team won’t have any patience for a struggling veteran, especially with young guns Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, the latter of whom is expected to return from Tommy John surgery in June or July, waiting for a starting opportunity.

That’s all a long-winded way of advising you to stay clear of Jimenez. If you own him, maybe hope he rebounds a bit in his next start, then trade him while his value is a tad bit higher. Or if someone is trying to dump him on you for cheap, I’d advise that you don’t go anywhere near him. Don’t forget, Jimenez is a year removed from a league-leading 17 losses and a 5.40 ERA–what’s to say that won’t happen again?

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