Ubaldo Jimenez, Reliever
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how Ubaldo Jimenez would fair as a reliever. My plan outlined a successful two-pitch approach for Jimenez as a bullpen arm. That was written about three weeks before Jimenez was officially demoted to bullpen duty, something that came to pass in the last week. Friday was Jimenez’s first outing as a reliever since his rookie year in 2007, and Jimenez followed (some of) my advice.
Discuss this post and Ubaldo Jimenez’s season so far on the BSL forums here.
Bud Norris had one of his worst starts in recent memory, throwing 2 innings and giving up 4 earned runs against the lowly Cubs. Jimenez came in to start the third inning and pitched 4 solid innings. He ended up giving up 3 hits while walking 1 hitter and striking out 5. He also gave up 1 earned run, but essentially looked better than most times he took the mound this season. So how did he do it?
Well Jimenez largely went with a two-pitch approach as his sinker and slider combined to make up 72% of the pitches he threw in the outing.
The choice of the sinker was interesting to me because he only threw it in the strike zone 35.3% of the time this season. My recommendation was to use his four seam fastball because it’s been a strike 52.4% of the time for Ubaldo this season. More than half of the pitches Jimenez threw in his 4 inning outing were sinkers, and they ended up being strikes just 14.29% of the time. The other pitch Jimenez used was his slider which he’s thrown for strikes 47.9% of the time this season. Just like during his time as a starter, his slider was good for strikes, with 41.67% of those he threw in his relief outing being just that.
Luckily for Jimenez a very high foul ball rate on sinkers and a decent whiff rate on his slider helped him throw enough strikes to be effective. All in all he threw just under 60% strikes, once you account for fouls and whiffs.
The results from Jimenez’s outing were good, but the process wasn’t so great. Below you can see an inning by inning account of Jimenez’s outing, and I specifically want to call out the strike% by inning:
Each inning saw diminishing returns from Jimenez, culminating in a rather poor fourth inning by strike% standards. To start the 6th inning Jimenez walked Ryan Sweeney on four pitches (2 sinkers, a curveball, and a slider). Welington Castillo would then foul out after seeing 5 sinkers, all either 89 or 90 mph, from Jimenez. Alcantara would bat next and single after getting ahead 3-1. Logan Watkins would go up 3-0 before eventually flying out to Adam Jones for the second out. Chris Valaika would then single in Sweeney on the second pitch of his at bat, followed by Coghlan grounding out on the second pitch of his at bat to end the inning.
Why go through every at-bat in this inning? Well, the results weren’t terrible, but Jimenez struggled mightily. At 75 pitches in this relief outing and little to no hope of finding the strike zone after pitch 50 or so, Jimenez is in no place to be a starting pitcher. He can succeed as a reliever though, he just needs to get ahead of opposing hitters to do so.
(May 17, 2014 – Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)
Jimenez should throw more of these (note the 4-seam grip)
If I were Dave Wallace I’d be telling Ubaldo to use a mix of fourseam fastball and splitter to get opposing hitters out. He can mix in sliders as well if he wants another tool against righties, something that I think could be beneficial since he throws the slider for strikes fairly well.
There’s reason for optimism in Ubaldo’s relief stint the other day, but there’s also reason to think that all isn’t fixed with the O’s overpaid long relief man.