The undercurrents of the 2012 Cleveland Indians season have been dominated by two stories; getting a right-handed bat for left field and the fight to the death between those who are convinced that Ubaldo Jimenez can be an ace and those who think he’s a back of the rotation arm.
The left field problem only has one solution, and pretty much everyone agrees what that solution should be; blow the entire place up and bring Barry Bonds out of retirement. (What? That’s not it? Fine, maybe there isn’t a solution.)
There’s no doubt that the Indians lack of offense is what is going to ultimately keep this team from making the playoffs this season – as I write this sentence, Johnny Damon, Shin-Soo Choo, and Asdrubal Cabrera fail to score a run with the bases loaded and no outs – the argument that really aggravates me is the Ubaldo Jimenez debate.
I’ve argued Ubaldo Jimenez with everyone under the sun. (Except for @MarkShapiro. For some reason he isn’t compelled to argue about personnel moves with every whack job with the internet. I wish I had that discipline.) When the Indians first acquired Ubaldo, I admittedly was all for the move. I liked Alex White and Drew Pomeranz (I even wrote a big bio on Pomeranz for a different website talking about how much I liked him) but I also was okay with the fact that sometimes you’ve got to move prospects for stars. I really thought that the front office was finally taking the plunge and making the right move.
Maybe I was just getting caught up in being an Indians fan and not letting myself really be objective about the move. Maybe the Indians made the right move, but Ubaldo went crazy. Maybe we’re all freaking nuts and there won’t be a ballsy, successful Indians trade until we unplug from the matrix. I have no idea.
What I do know is that Ubaldo Jimenez – the current Ubaldo Jimenez – probably isn’t any better than a random handful of starting pitchers that you’ve never heard of. In fact, if you look at Baseball-Reference‘s Similarity Scores, Jimenez actually does compare to a bunch of guys we’ve never heard of. Sure, Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Matt Garza are names we know, but do you really want your team relying on either of those guys? I sure don’t.
Years W L WL% ERA G CG IP HR BB SO Ubaldo Jimenez 7 68 57 0.544 3.9 167 8 1020 78 460 914 Rich Harden 9 59 38 0.608 3.76 170 2 928 105 422 949 Wade Miller 9 62 46 0.574 4.1 151 5 894 108 377 749 Erik Bedard 9 60 60 0.5 3.79 185 1 1037 98 412 1004 Charlie Lea 7 62 48 0.564 3.54 152 22 923 79 341 535 Kelly Downs 8 57 53 0.518 3.86 237 11 963 73 373 598 Matt Garza 7 57 61 0.483 3.85 169 8 1024 115 349 862 Steve Busby 8 70 54 0.565 3.72 167 53 1060 73 433 659 David Palmer 10 64 59 0.52 3.78 212 10 1085 78 434 748 Chad Billingsley 7 74 61 0.548 3.73 210 4 1118 84 475 1003 Dave Boswell 8 68 56 0.548 3.52 205 37 1065 110 481 882
I think it’s a good bet that Ubaldo is much more like the pitcher that he is today than he was during his ridiculously good 2010 season. In 2010, Jimenez followed a 15-12 2009 season with an All-Star caliber 19-8 record and a 2.88 ERA. Two years ago, a 26-year-old Ubaldo was spectacular. To keep that in perspective, in 2007 a 26-year-old Roberto Hernandez posted a 19-8 record with a 3.06 ERA. Sure, we all thought 26-year-old Heredia was 22-year-old Fausto Carmona, but the truth of the matter is that we’ve seen this movie before. The script is almost word for word, actually.
Heredia followed his huge year by going 8-7 and 5-12 with a combined 5.88 ERA. Ubaldo followed his big year by going 10-13 last season and is 8-8 so far in 2012 with a combined (to date) 4.95 ERA. I’m on board with Ubaldo’s ERA being significantly lower and his second year after his huge season having potential to be better than Hernadez’s, but does a potentially .500 season in 2012 mean that Ubaldo is the kind of contributor that he was supposed to be when Cleveland traded for him? It does not.
If you take away Ubaldo’s great season, his record plummets from 68-57 to 49-49. I know that it’s not fair to take away great years from anyone (an average is an average, after all), but that .500 record without the aberrant season is much more indicative of what Jimenez is as a major league pitcher. His career yearly average is 14-12 with a 3.9 ERA.
When the story lines get stripped away, the Indians rotation boils down to the fact that when Roberto Hernandez was outed as an old guy, Ubaldo Jimenez picked up the torch where the pitcher we knew as Fausto Carmona dropped it and became the extension of what that 28-year-old pitcher was going to become.
Maybe that’s good enough for some fans. If it is, then I can’t really argue. I can tell you that it’s not good enough for me. The only way I’m going to be satisfied with Ubaldo is if we change our expectations of him. If we lump him in with the Roberto Hernandezes of the world and find a place for him at the back of the rotation, then his flashes of brilliance will be exactly what the rotation needs. But billed as the Indians second ace? He’s more likely to be the Indians second biggest reason they don’t make the playoffs.