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Picking between Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez

That's not how you pitch. That's not a regulation hat. You are a mess.
That's not how you pitch. That's not a regulation hat. You are a mess.
Jamie Squire

Last year at this time, we were talking about Ervin Santana.

Can you believe the Angels didn't have to eat any of his salary? Can you believe the Royals are hoping he'll be good again? Kyle Davies reference Dayton Moore joke?

The Royals took the longest of longshots, and it worked. Santana was a huge part of the Royals' season, which was the same as winning the World Series, in a Tofurky kind of way. It was a similar risk as the Padres are taking with Josh Johnson, but Santana cost more money and young players in return.

Now, we're talking about giving up guaranteed millions and a draft pick to secure Santana. Seems crazy with a little perspective.

That's not the only story like that. Last year at this time, we were talking about Ubaldo Jimenez.

What in the heck is wrong with Ubaldo Jimenez?

I used stronger language, and I used it through June. As recently as June, Jimenez was still in the nebulous Lincecum zone, where reduced velocity and effectiveness couldn't be explained away by injury. He was a liability, not an asset.

Now, we're talking about giving up guaranteed millions and a draft pick to secure Jimenez. Seems crazy with a little perspective.

There's a how-did-this-happen kinship between the two pitchers, then. After an offseason of thinking about the different ways Santana and Jimenez could hurt their teams, we're thinking about the different ways they might improve their new teams. For the moment forget about the draft pick, which seems likely to cost them each tens of millions. Pretend there's a crazy team that has already given up several draft picks, and also pretend they're desperate, old, and possibly one pitcher short. Pretend the team plays in New York, and pretend their fans have a better chance of having Kevin Maas anecdotes than other fans might.

It's your job to pick between Jimenez and Santana for them.

I can see it in your eyes. You're going to be a smartass and say "Bronson Arroyo." Alright, pretend this fictional team plays in a stadium the size of a margarine tub, and that pop-ups to right field are often carried out by wind currents. There isn't a worse fit for Arroyo in the majors. This is a binary choice if you're this mystery team. It's Santana or Jimenez. Or nothing. So a ternary choice. But you can't pick the last one, even if it's probably the right one.


After allowing four runs to the Royals on July 14, Jimenez's ERA went up to 4.56. He couldn't find the strike zone (53 walks in 98 innings), and he was allowing a goodly amount of home runs.

Then, poof.

It happened like this, more or less. Jimenez's second half was Koufaxian, with 100 strikeouts to 27 walks in 84 innings. He allowed 13 homers before the break and three after. His overall season line looked superlative, which is gobsmacking when you see the route Jimenez took to get there.

Santana's line isn't as impressive on the surface, at least when it comes to strikeouts. But considering the difference between ballparks, Santana was probably better at preventing runs when adjusting for context (127 ERA+ to Jimenez's 114). There's certainly a neater distribution of good starts and bad starts, partially explained by the preponderance of hackers and wavers Jimenez got to face in the second half.


In which "scouting" is defined as looking at velocity and a couple of videos.

Santana's velocity has been consistent -- mid-90s throughout, with his peak velocity down in his lost year of 2012.

Ubaldo's velocity is still way down from its peak, and down even further from where it was in 2011. But even with the storied drop in fastball health, he's still throwing relatively hard. There was even an uptick in velocity to correspond with his second-half surge.

A representative good start from Jimenez:

A representative good start from Santana:

They seem like similar pitchers in a lot of ways. But if this is under a heading of "scouting", the least we could do is point out that Ubaldo Jimenez has one of the ugliest deliveries in baseball.

Former NBA star Tracy McGrady is working out with Roger Clemens, trying his hand at pitching. I would imagine that if he showed up the first day with that motion up there, Clemens would have climbed out of a bathroom window to get away. Just a fugly delivery, with parts moving back that should be going forward, and pieces going sideways when they should be staying still.

As you can see in the video, Jimenez is not always as sloppy as that one GIF. But I'll take Santana's clean delivery every time.


Santana has battled elbow strains and shoulder stiffness, though he's relatively clean as far as pitchers go. There's no Tommy John, no serious shoulder injuries. Here's the list of injuries for Jimenez, though:

  • Ankle sprain
  • Calf cramps
  • Cuticle problems
  • Thigh cramps
  • Knee contusion (batted ball)

That's it. He hasn't missed a day because of elbow or shoulder wonkiness, even though he throws like a blindfolded Hunter Pence. If you believe the theory that reduced velocity is the result of fraying and spindling that needs to be torn down before it can be rebuilt, then you can be skeptical about Ubaldo's ability to stay healthy. But if you believe the theory that past health is the best predictor of future health, Jimenez should be clean. They both should, actually.

Conclusion: Both are pitchers, which means they're serious health risks. But neither are especially risky within the subset of pitchers, which is a surprise. Feels like both of them are one sneeze away from 60 days away from the roster.

Alright, then. You're a large-market team from New York that stopped caring about draft picks in December. You're a little nervous that the last spot in your rotation is filled with either a reconstructed or a 27-year-old who wasn't very good last year. If the price drops for both pitchers, enough to take a chance, which one do you go for?

The correct answer for the other 29 teams is Bronson Arroyo and keeping the draft pick. The qualified offer completely hosed these two, more than anyone outside Kendrys Morales. But I'll chose Santana by a hair. They're freaky matches, to be honest, each riding the same sine wave over the last few years.

That delivery, though. That Jimenez delivery is just weird.