Ubaldo Jimenez and his missing 96 mph heater: A mechanical lookby Kyle Boddy
May 04, 2012
On July 30, 2011, newly minted Indians GM Chris Antonetti made a huge trade, acquiring Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez in exchange for a pair of prospects—Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. Pomeranz was a highly prized prospect in the Cleveland system; he was far and away the best prospect the Indians had and one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Cleveland fans were excited to have a legitimate ace on the staff. A guy who could gas his fastball near 100 mph and sat in the mid-90s with some great secondary stuff hadn't been seen in Cleveland in a long time.
Unfortunately for the Tribe faithful, Ubaldo has disappointed in his short stint with the Indians, and his fastball velocity continues to drop like a stone in water, going from an average of 96 mph in 2009 and 2010 to 93.5 mph in 2011 and 92.0 in 2012 (so far, and it should be noted that fastball velocity tends to be lower in the early months of a season). His BABIP spiked in 2011, which could have caused some poor luck, but there's no denying that he's been giving up more home runs since being traded—and that's with a shift away from Colorado and into mostly park-neutral Progressive Field!
Jordan Bastian, an Indians beat writer, had this to say about Jimenez' drop in velocity (particularly bad on Tuesday):
This is generally a decent explanation for lost velocity and initially made some sense to me. Jimenez has been using his change-up much more often, and I've been critical of pitchers doing this in the past; when pitchers start relying on their change-up more than usual, they tend to straighten their delivery out and create quite a bit less rotational momentum, thus hurting velocity on all pitches thrown.
So, I decided to load up MLB.TV and download some footage from 2010 to compare it to his most recent start in 2012 to see if I could spot the same issues that Jimenez and his coaches had seen (allegedly using 2010 and 2012 video).
After viewing a clip of him throwing 96 mph in the early innings of that 2010 start (July) and 91 mph in the early innings of the 2012 start (May), I didn't see much difference around his front shoulder. It looked like he still had the weird Jeff Niemann-like stabbing motion in the back of his arm action but that he hadn't sacrificed much, if any, rotational momentum in his delivery.
This isn't uncommon—using terrible broadcast-quality video (25 FPS) will usually not yield much in the way of solid observations. Synchronizing the clips, I compared them side-by-side from all the phases of the delivery—leg lift, stride foot contact, late cocking, arm acceleration, and ball release. What I saw was so astounding, it made me re-cut the video to make sure I hadn't screwed something up. It was still there. So, I re-downloaded the video and re-cut it a third time. Still there.
I won't drag it out any longer. Here's the side-by-side comparison at full speed. Do note, however, that the video on the right (2012) is about a third of a frame ahead of the video on the left (2010) due to the joys of working with broadcast video.
Can you spot the glaring mechanical change? It's hard to notice the first few times at full speed. Here's the relevant part, slowed down:
Look at Jimenez' arm action when he separates his pitching hand from the glove! (He also collapses a bit more on the backside and has more teeter-totter north-south in his 2012 delivery, but it's very slight.)
In the Cleveland clip, he separates his pitching arm extremely early and leaves it to hang by his back pocket for four or five more frames than he did in Colorado. Look back at the full speed clip and see how the 2010 arm action is so much more athletic and smooth. The difference is honestly staggering—you almost never see a change this massive in such a short period of time.
Jimenez' arm action has always been unorthodox, but he created decent momentum out of the glove when he began the bottom portion of his arm action in Colorado. Now, he completely arrests momentum in the arm as it hangs down. He just takes his pitching arm out of the glove and lets it hang down while he used to have much better rhythm and intent out of the glove.
Ubaldo's take: Front shoulder myth busted
Whatever he saw on the video to think that his front shoulder was the problem is absolutely NOT the issue, and it's shocking that he didn't notice this difference when doing so. Simply putting synchronized video side-by-side and going through it frame-by-frame reveals a major change in arm action that needs to be addressed immediately through movement efficiency drills.
Allow me to step on my soapbox here for a bit: It should be the sole job of at least one person working in a club's player development department to routinely review video mechanics of both hitters and pitchers throughout the farm system from various angles.
Ideally, you spend about $800 and install high-speed cameras in each of your parks from the side and rear of the pitching mound and review pitching mechanics of all pitchers who come through your parks. This way, you'd have a huge library of 210-420 FPS video you could recall and use in a coaching capacity, or for scouting/player acquisition purposes. You could even review pitching kinematics to monitor red flags in deliveries of pitchers in advance, which would be incredibly valuable for future analysis. We're not talking about a huge investment here, and the payoff would be enormous. How valuable would it have been to notice this mechanical issue in 2011, or in spring training?
Ubaldo Jimenez has a 96 mph fastball left in him—but not with these mechanics. He needs to figure out how to recreate the whip in his arm action and take constant video of his mechanics to ensure they stay that way.
Kyle Boddy is the owner of Driveline Baseball and Driveline Biomechanics Research, both in Seattle, Washington. At his facility, he's melded statistical analysis, strength & conditioning, prehab/rehab, and advanced biomechanical analysis concepts to develop improved efficiency, durability, and fastball velocity of baseball pitchers. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and found on Twitter: @drivelinebases.