Ubaldo Jimenez and his missing 96 mph heater: A mechanical look

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):

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Comments

  1. Drew Osborne said...

    The glove separation is the key.  But another thing I noticed was how his front arm got higher.  These two things work hand in hand.  He’s trying to reach back but what it’s causing is a loss of momentum.  He is wasting energy up and down rather than saving energy to put into his delivery.  With the Rox he was tighter and didn’t over tilt.  This allowed him to have more explosion when it came time to release the ball.  Obviously the velocity thing is in his head.  He’s tried to fix it with a guesstimate and that’s lead to more problems.  “Don’t think Meat.”

  2. EC said...

    I think it’s worth noting that he was supposedly working on these alleged mechanical flaws in the Chicago game. So that clip you are using could already include those alleged changes he made.

  3. Mike W said...

    Drew got it. Too much vertical, not enough drive.

    Someone send this to the Indians front office.

  4. Tony Cunningham said...

    It can be hard to access cause and effect relationships from this kind of video.  The difference you are seeing might not be what’s making the difference.  The arm difference might actually be an effect of another issue that isn’t so readily apparent.  It’s all a system, and the relations can be complex (so for instance, hand speed connected to upper-body strength/action is important, and this can be hard to detect in a video like this).  Moreover, there can be more than one way for a pitcher to produce a 96 mph fastball. In other words, there needn’t be one optimal delivery that produces the maximal speed.  Looking at both videos, I’m struck by what relatively little leg drive he seems to have.  When you think of power pitchers like Ryan, Clemens, and Seaver, their leg drive was really obvious and powerful.

  5. Kyle Boddy said...

    Mason:

    I looked at different clips afterwards. (As well as different intragame fastballs.) Saw the same thing.

    Drew:

    I think the pitching arm action is causing the glove arm action. It’s worth noting the angles aren’t the same in both videos, so it’s tough to tell differences that depend on planar measurements.

    EC:

    I certainly hope these aren’t the intended changes he wanted to make.

    Tony:

    Of course it’s possible, but it’s very likely. I never said there was one optimal delivery, but his delivery now is so vastly different than it was when he was throwing gas on a regular basis. That’s my point.

  6. Mason said...

    You said you recut it a few times, but did you use the same footage everytime? Just wondering if you pulled different 2010/2012 games, would that make a difference.

  7. Brandon said...

    Along with all of the other comments, it also looks like his left leg isn’t as tucked in as much this year

  8. this guy said...

    Tony has the closest thing to a credible narrative here, but that wouldn’t sell people. Succumbing to the complexity of reality is boring. You have to “know” everything to sell.

    The Indians clip looks more like a frame is missing, than vastly different mechanics. All pitchers lose velocity or dial it down over time. Steady upper 90s velocity is rarely sustainable, and pitchers are reinventing themselves all the time. It’s also well known he isn’t happy about his contract. This could all be a charade to preserve his arm for his next contract. There could be a lot going on here. These are people, not robots.

  9. Kyle Boddy said...

    The Indians clip would need to be missing about 4 frames for your comment to be remotely accurate.

  10. kozo said...

    Has anybody compared his MAy 6th video, where he got so great result versus Rangers ? It looks like arm is getting back more .

  11. a said...

    In stopping the momentum of the arm with the early removal of ball from glove, he also appears to be creating more issues in restarting his arm.

    This is all naked eye looking at gifs of broadcast tv so I may be off.

    1) In 2010, there is only one frame of his wrist cocked horizontally before the arm starts forward. In 2012, three.

    2) In 2012, his arm appears to have different timing when his front foot lands – farther back and lower.

    3) Finally, his back foot in 2010 looks like it goes up before sweeping out. In 2012, the toe goes straight from contact with the ground to sweeping out.

    All appear to be timing issues as a result of trying to catch up.

  12. Kyle Boddy said...

    “All appear to be timing issues as a result of trying to catch up.”

    I think that’s a very good way to put it.

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