Commentary

Banking on Ubaldo Jimenez

By parting with some valuable prospects, Indians believe he'll pitch like an ace

Updated: July 31, 2011, 1:21 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

The Cleveland Indians don't need any sabermetricians to tell them they're taking a risk by trading their two best pitching prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez.

They can multiply. They can divide. And they can use a computer. So they know the guy they traded for isn't the same Ubaldo who hit the 2010 All-Star break at 15-1 with an ERA barely above 2.

Since then, this fellow has won just 10 of his past 36 starts, his velocity his down, and his ERA has more than doubled. But when the Indians look at this Ubaldo Jimenez, that's not all they see.

They also see a guy who still has tremendous stuff, huge upside and a contract that's made to order for their market.

OK, so he doesn't throw 97-99 miles per hour in the eighth inning anymore, the way he used to. Outside of Justin Verlander, who does? We're still talking about a man with a 96-mph TWO-SEAMER, and a killer slider and a disappearing changeup.

So when people talk about his "diminished" velocity, just remember: It's all relative.

"His velocity, over his last 12 starts [before Saturday] was 1.7 miles an hour lower than last year," said one scout, who decided to pore over his reports over the past week to try to divide Ubaldo Myth from Ubaldo Reality. "His average fastball was 95.8 mph. Last year it was 97.4. Early in the season it was more like a 3-mile-an-hour drop. So he's been better as he's gotten healthier. That's what I see.

"I'll tell you what I think this is all about," the scout went on. "He used to throw 15 or 20 pitches a game at 99 to 100 [mph]. He's not hitting that anymore. But you know what? Neither is Felix Hernandez, and nobody talks about that."

Unlike King Felix, though, Jimenez has had inconsistent mechanics, command that comes and goes, and an exasperating lack of dependability. So they're not exactly 2010-11 clones of each other.

Nevertheless, in Jimenez's 10 starts between June 1, which was about the time he finally began to get his strength back after some early-season issues, and the third week of July, at about the time the trade rumors began to swirl, the Great Ubaldo had a 2.58 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings. Want to put those numbers in better perspective?

The only starters in the big leagues with a better ERA and a better strikeout rate over that period were Verlander, CC Sabathia and Gio Gonzalez.

And that, friends, is what the Indians were trading for.

Yeah, they stripped their system to get him. But prospect depth was one of their biggest strengths. And ask yourself this: If the Indians hadn't made this trade, where else were they going to find a potential top-of-the-rotation force?

It's not like they were going to outspend the Yankees and bring back CC to Cleveland next winter.

So give them credit. While other teams looked for reasons to run the other way, the Indians did what small-market teams have to do:

They rolled the dice on a big-time talent.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is now available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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