Perhaps one of the least-known pitchers in all of baseball is actually one of the most talented. This season, Ubaldo Jimenez has taken his immense talent and fully harnessed to have a season that few saw coming.
Jimenez has always been a flamethrower, averaging around 95 mph on his fastball as a starter. This year he has bumped that number up to an incredible 96 mph, which leads the league (among starters). The control problems that plagued him in the minor leagues seem to be a thing of the past, as he’s down to 3.42 walks per nine innings. When I say control problems, I mean control problems. Here are his walk rates in the minors from single-A to triple-A during the 2005-2007 seasons: 4.7, 4.9, 5.4. That’s not the positive trend most people look for.
Jimenez showed a pretty bad walk rate last season, but threw about 60% of his pitches for strikes–essentially league average–which was a positive indicator. He took it up a notch this season when he cut his walk rate by 27%, from 4.67 per nine innings to 3.42. A decrease of that amount with the upkeep of his other rates has done wonders for his season. At 4.9 wins above replacement, he’s surpassed last season’s total with still a month left to play. In a normal season, a 6-win pitcher is a Cy Young candidate. It looks like Tim Lincecum has it wrapped up at this point, but that doesn’t diminish the awesome season Ubaldo is having.
Think about this for a minute: He hasn’t given up more than three runs in a start since July 5th, and he’s gone at least six innings in each one. Over that stretch he’s 6-2 with a 2.51 ERA and opponents have a .583 OPS against him. That’s like an average pitcher facing Willy Taveras very at bat. Just for reference, Willy Taveras has the worst OPS in the major leagues among qualified batters. At this point, there’s little that can stop Ubaldo Jimenez. With a clean bill of health, he should be one of the best pitchers in baseball for years to come.