In Mile-High City, it’s all about the U: Rockies’ Jimenez poised to become franchise’s first twenty-game winner | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

In Mile-High City, it’s all about the U: Rockies’ Jimenez poised to become franchise’s first twenty-game winner

June 1, 2010

“With the one hundred fourth pick of the 2010 Denslow Cup Draft, the Capital City Corporate Towls select Ubaldo Jimenez, Starting Pitcher, Colorado Rockies.” These words (which would have been uttered by Denslow Cup commissioner Robbie Unsell had we done an in-person draft but were instead simply printed on a screen) have launched my Capital City Corporate Towls into the world of fantasy baseball relevance for the first time since the team’s championship run back in 2007.  And why not?  Jimenez this year has been the best pitcher in baseball and after two months, has to be the favorite to win the NL Cy Young in a league that includes Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, whom Ubaldo just outdueled in his latest gem. The Rockies are 10-1 when Ubaldo takes the hill and 17-23 when he doesn’t, and they’ll count on him to continue his dominant season atop their rotation if they’re to have any hope of making the playoffs.  His ten wins, 0.90 WHIP and microscopic 0.78 ERA all lead the Majors by a comfortable margin. Before moving on, it is important to compare these numbers to the historical pitching performance of the Rockies, a franchise whose struggles from the mound are well-documented, particularly in the pre-humidor era of hitter-friendly Coors Field.  A few statistics jump out immediately:

  • The Rockies’ record for ERA and WHIP (both set by Jimenez last season) are 3.47 and 1.23 respectively.  While these represent a solid season, Brad Bergesen, Robinson Tejeda and Joel Piniero all had similar ERA/WHIP numbers last season.  None would be considered a “big name” by any stretch, and none had an average draft position inside the top 200 in ESPN Fantasy leagues.  To reach a 3.47 ERA in his next eighty innings, Ubaldo would need to give up 54 runs (an ERA north of 6)
  • The Rockie record for shutouts in a season is two.  This has been accomplished twice, most recently last year by Jason Marquis.  Today, Ubaldo made it three times with his second shutout of the season.  His other one was a no-hitter, the first in the history of the franchise.
  • The Rockies have never had a twenty-game winner.  The franchise wins record is seventeen, accomplished three times, most recently by Jeff Francis in 2007.  Jimenez has 10 this year (no one else in baseball has more than seven), and at the time of this writing, my calendar still reads “MAY” in big red letters across the top.

Simply put, prior to this year, the Colorado Rockies have never had a bona fide ace.  Jeff Francis was a great guy to send to the hill every fifth day and always gave the team a chance to win.  Aaron Cook was an all-star in 2008 and in fact tossed three scoreless innings in the NL loss.  But at no point during those seasons did I feel like the Rockies had a great chance to win the game simply because they were on the hill. That has all changed this year.  Now, for Rockies fans, the game isn’t just another ballgame when #38 takes the hill—it’s an event.  Sure, the Rockies can win with Francis, Cook and Jhoulys Chacin on the bump on days two, three and four, and we’ll stomach Jason Hammel on day five, but when The Chief’s turn comes up, a win is almost a given in the minds of the Rockies and their fans.  And why shouldn’t it be?  Jimenez’s worst start of the season was undoubtedly his second, when he gave up two runs over six innings, scattering seven hits and three walks to pick up the win over San Diego on April 11.  In Jimenez’s only loss, he had command problems and was laboring on the mound his entire start, but gave up just one run on two hits through seven innings. One of the two hits (the lone RBI) came on a comebacker that glanced off of Jimenez’s glove and didn’t leave the infield—a ball that a tough official scorer could have easily called an error. Since that “awful” outing, all Jimenez has done is give up 2 runs on 18 hits and 6 walks through 32 innings for a tidy ERA of 0.56 and a decent 0.75 WHIP.  He also set the mark this season for most consecutive scoreless innings by a Rockies starter with 25 1/3, then broke his own record as he’s reeled off 26 more in a row.  And I’m pretty sure that Runs-per-Batters Faced is not an official statistic, but Jimenez has faced 267 batters this season, 7 of which have scored, for a R/BF of 0.026.  That’s less than one out of every 38 batters he faces—and Jimenez hasn’t faced more than 32 batters in any of his starts this year. So Jimenez has been the crown jewel of the Rockies’ season thus far, and barring a collapse, should start the all-star game in Anaheim this July.  But the question on everybody’s mind is simple: Can he keep this up? Well, the short answer, of course, is no.  No one in his right mind is projecting him to break the single-season ERA record of 1.12, set by Bob Gibson in 1968, the best year for pitchers in the entire live-ball era.  And certainly no one is projecting Jimenez to become baseball’s first thirty-game winner since Denny McLain accomplished that feat (also in 1968) particularly considering the meager support offered by a surprisingly-mediocre Rockies offense.  But there’s good reason to expect similar performance from Ubaldo in the season’s final four months, and those who are looking to sell high on the 26-year-old should think again.  And fast. Critics might point to Ubaldo’s strand rate, which is currently north of 92%, considerably higher than his career rate which hovers around 70%, and warn that a correction is coming.  They’ll also invariably point to his K/9 rate, which has declined from his 2009 and 2008 numbers.  They might also point to high pitch counts and say that he will tire by August.  But to those of you naysayers out there, I have three very strong words for you:

Watch him pitch.

Watch the best hitters in the game flail at his breaking ball and fail to catch up to his 101mph fastball, like Adrian Gonzalez did when he whiffed three times in one game against Jimenez and looked like a fool doing so.  Watch the pitches that he throws for strikes when behind in counts, which today included a beyond-nasty sinker at 97mph that most pitchers (those who even HAVE a 97mph sinker that is) wouldn’t throw on 2-1, but Jimenez threw on 3-2. Watch the defense that his team plays behind him, which today included a diving stop from second baseman Clint Barmes, a caught-stealing from catcher Miguel Olivo and an against-the-wall catch from Carlos Gonzalez.  Also in the lineup behind Jimenez are gold-glove first baseman Todd Helton and two of the best arms in the game—one at shortstop (Troy Tulowitzki) and one in right field (Brad Hawpe).  The portion of the field available for base hits is always much smaller than it appears behind the Rockies’ ace.  Even watch the hits he allows.  Of the 46 hits he has given up this year (just over four per start), a staggering portion of those have been seeing-eye singles or infield hits, and just one has left the ballpark.  One home run allowed in 80.1 innings. While his K/9 has indeed regressed slightly, he has been considerably more efficient with his pitches.  His outs-per-start rate has jumped from 17.5 outs per start in 2008 to 20 outs per start in 2009 and now has hit 22 outs per start in 2010—meaning he typically leaves just five outs for the bullpen, which of course means only the best of the ‘pen will be coming on behind him. In ESPN standard leagues, 25 pitchers were drafted before Jimenez this year, including Javier Vazquez (6.86 ERA), Tommy Hanson (4.06 ERA) and even Brandon Webb, who may not throw an inning all year.  For his owners, he was an absolute steal at the draft table, but absent glaring needs in other areas, only a fool would put the “Sell High” label on the young right-hander—indeed, “Buy High” may be more appropriate. Tomorrow, Hammel takes the hill for the Rockies against Barry Zito as the Rockies try to even the season series against the Giants, and it’s back to baseball as usual in Denver.  But in just six days, The Chief will be taking the ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Ubaldo Jimenez Show will begin anew as he seeks win number eleven.  So if you own U right now, just enjoy the ride.  There are plenty of Rockies fans enjoying it right along with you.

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