Last year on May 17th, Ubaldo Jimenez was 7-1 with a 1.12 ERA. His ERA would actually go down over his next four starts. At his peak, he was 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA on July 8th. He probably had an appointment to get fitted for the paisley jacket that Cy Young winners receive and everything.*
* Well, they should get a paisley jacket. Get on it, Selig.
His struggles in the second half took him out of Cy Young contention, but he still garnered enough votes to finish third in the voting. Going into 2011, the Rockies expected him to be the ace of a team expected to contend for an NL West title.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Jimenez struggled with blister and cuticle problems on his throwing hand that kept him out for more than two weeks in April, and when he has pitched he's been awful. The Rockies are 0-6 in games started by Jimenez this season, and his control has been abysmal. His average fastball speed, which led the league last year at 96.1 MPH, is way down to 92.8 this year. His ERA is 6.67. That’s just .01 more than just regular evil.
Here’s a breakdown of the ERAs from the first six appearances of starters coming off a top-three Cy Young finish between 2001 and 2010:
Hurt before they could make six starts in a season: 3
ERA above 5.00: 7
ERA between 4.00 and 4.99: 9
ERA between 3.00 and 3.99: 24
ERA between 2.00 and 2.99: 11
ERA between 1.00 and 1.99: 9
ERA between 0.00 and 0.99: 1 (Johan Santana, 2008)
Twenty-one pitchers coming off a top-three finish started the next season just as impressively as they did in their previous season. Twenty-four performed well enough to avoid extra scrutiny. Nine made their teams a little nervous. Ten sent their teams into a state of abject panic.
That leaves seven other pitchers who imploded in their first six starts following a great season. One of them is Ubaldo this season. Here are the other six, sorted into categories based on how they finished the season:
Eventually put on the disabled list with a serious injury
Pitchers who weren’t hurt, but didn’t regain their effectiveness that season or the next
Pitchers who rebounded to have a nice season
That’s a nice, even split. So Ubaldo is either going to go on the shelf with a substantial injury, stop being good for a couple of seasons, or rebound to perform at a high level. Remember: You read it here first!
There’s no way to tell which way Jimenez is going to go this season. It’s still too early, so all the Rockies can do is wait and see. Jimenez’s BB/9 ratio is 6.67 -- again, .01 more evil than your standard evil! -- which is insane. Of all the pitchers who struggled, or who were injured, none of them were nearly that wild. And this isn’t a new thing for Jimenez, who finished 2010 walking 46 batters in 96 second-half innings.
It’s worth noting that even though his fastball velocity is down, Jimenez is still getting the same amount of swing-throughs and out-of-zone swings that he was last year. Maybe he’s hurt, maybe he’s fine, and maybe he’s just wilder than he showed in the first half of 2010. No one knows yet. The Rockies are right to hope -- there are pitchers who started a season this poorly following a Cy Young-caliber season who turned it around.
It’s not a good sign that Ubaldo started his season so poorly, but the poor start isn’t necessarily a portent of doom.