Ubaldo vs. the benchmarks

Arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now, Ubaldo Jimenez sports a Bob Gibsonian ERA of 1.16 along with the Major League high of 12 wins. Of course his low ERA has been helped greatly by a low BABIP of .232 and the Majors highest left on base percentage (LOB%) of 91.3%. Those numbers are heading towards regression, although his BABIP might stay around lowest in the Majors due to his stuff. And his “stuff” is what going to talk about next.

Hardball Times own Harry Pavlidis attempts to classify every pitch captured under MLBAM’s pitch f/x for the 2010 season. Using that data, Harry has had a large enough sample to set up benchmarks for each pitch type. So what I want to do is compare Ubaldo’s pitches this season to the benchmarks and see what comes up. But the first thing I had to do is classify his pitches by start and more importantly know what Ubaldo throws.

Using Sven Jenkins scouting report and some excellent reporting in this article by Jeff Fletcher of Fan House, I figured Ubaldo has seven possible pitches. Yes, a seven-pitch pitcher. His primary pitch is the hard sinking fastball, along with a possible straighter four seam fastball, a slider, a hard change-up, a curveball, a splitter, and a cutter that he has worked on during spring training.

So now here is a chart plotting his spin deflection* (also known as pitch movement) of his pitches this season.

*I call these values spin deflection since they merely showing the spin angle and spin revolutions of the baseball. Actual pitch movement needs to take into consideration of speed, gravity, break, and location of the release point to the plate.

I expect him to have a little more vertical spin movement on his two seam fastball but it’s spin looks comparable to those of other notable sinkerballers. This is interesting because he has a high arm angle and to achieve that spin, means he would have to turn the ball over quite a bit to achieve that spin. But this graph doesn’t really show it’s true nature as it can be thrown in the triple digits along with some serious late breaking movement. That late breaking movement allows him to backdoor the pitch to right-handed hitters with ease. Along with the two seamer, there is apparently a few four seam fastballs although it may be just fastballs that he didn’t turn over as much so I will place them together for the analysis.

His off-speed pitches includes the slider which looks like the opposite of the two seamer going away from right handers. There were some notable cutters although I think it was in his second start of the season which he may have been still testing it out, but there may have been some cutters misclassified as sliders. Then comes the change-up and splitter. I called the change-up those pitches with the same spin as the two seamer, and splitters those with more split action or more vertical drop. And finally the curveball which may actually look like a slider to hitters until it drops more due to gravity with the topspin and decreased velocity.

My classifications may be a bit subjective and there may be some mistakes but I think they are much better than Gameday’s. Anyway time to compare his pitches to the benchmarks as shown in this table.


The rows in gray are the benchmarks with the rows in white Ubaldo’s (I removed the few cutters due to sample size). For the definition of the metrics used, refer to Harry’s article on the benchmarks.

Except for the curveball, all of Ubaldo’s pitches have much higher velocities than average with the fastball coming in at a hard 95 mph. His change-up might be comparable to Stephen Strasburg’s as they come as fast or faster than a lot of other pitchers fastballs. Moving on to the metrics, one that pops out right at me is the Watch metric, or takes in the strike zone. All his pitches have much higher Watch then average which I assume comes from the movement of the pitches as a whole. Hitters might sit on his hard sinking fastball but when a 20 mph slower curveball comes, they might buckle their knees as they watch it get called a strike. As for the other metrics, hitters swing at his splitters the most although they make little contact with it. And the ground ball rates for the two seamer is almost at 60% which would explain is very low HR/9 for this season and the past two seasons. Maybe also associated with the movement of his pitches, the ball to called strike ratio is just slightly lower than average for most of his pitches. This could be just noise or a small sample size issue.

Overall, Ubaldo Jimenez is an excellent pitcher. The mid to upper 90s already puts him on the top of the list as one of the best pitchers in the league. Then add that movement and a nice arsenal of pitches and this is Cy Young material (the stuff that gave him his first no-hitter of his career). And with 12 wins and an ERA just above 1, the voters have a clear favorite right now. Although as a follower of sabermetrics, I should ignore the frivolous Cy Young, ERA, and wins and see that his FIP based WAR is not actually number one in the Majors. Which I assume is largely due to the fact that those ahead of him have a much lower walk rate than he does. To ignore that and still say he is the best I will have to back it up with the Win Probability statistics and find that he is on top. Because real wins matter, right?

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