Ubaldo Jimenez pitched 8 dominant innings today, striking out 10 and giving up 3 hits, 2 of which didn’t leave the infield. That line wasn’t enough, however, to earn his 20th win, as the Rockies lost, 1-0 in extra innings.
At the All-Star break, Jimenez was 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA, on pace for almost 30 wins and one of the easiest Cy Young choices in the history of the award. After that day, Jimenez went 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA and will be lucky to finish third in the Cy Young balloting. Was Jimenez really a different pitcher after the All-Star break?
In 127 pre-All-Star innings, Jimenez struck out 113 and walked 46 in 130 innings. In 94 2/3 subsequent innings, he struck out 101 and walked 46. He gave up 6 of his 10 home runs before the break. Essentially, the difference between pre-ASG Ubaldo and post-ASG Ubaldo, in terms of the outcomes within a pitcher’s control, was one additional walk every six innings, balanced by one more strikeout every five.
Sure, the Rockies would’ve liked that extra strikeout without the extra walk, and they probably would’ve sacrificed the K for the saved BB, but the numbers show that the dominant Ubaldo and the slightly-better-than-league-average Ubaldo were really the same pitcher, with the exception of luck, defense, and everything else a pitcher can’t control once the ball is put in play. Enough virtual ink has been spilled urging fans not to make too much of small sample sizes and to consider the effect an abnormally low batting average on balls in play can have on a pitcher’s ERA, but there’s another aspect of Jimenez’s season that will stay with me for a long time. A lot of hitters and pitchers and teachers and actuaries can have a great couple of months with the right combination of talent, luck, good timing, staying in a Holiday Inn Express, and the stars aligning just right. If you’re a baseball player, a great stretch in the middle of the season might go entirely unnoticed. The same numbers at the end of the year might be a boon to your MVP hopes or contract negotiations. But for my money, the smartest time to go on a torrid, Ubaldo-esque run might just be the beginning of the season, because 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in August and September doesn’t show up in the paper, and it doesn’t earn you the All-Star game start that will never disappear from your biography.
It’s a shame Ubaldo Jimenez didn’t win 20 games this year, and that he won’t seriously contend for the Cy Young. But this guy, whose true talent is probably somewhere around the 19-8, 2.88 season he finished with, spent three brilliant months fooling the baseball world into thinking he might be a 30-win, sub-2.00 ERA guy. And some of us will never forget that.