Ubaldo vs. Ervin


A little report surfaced the other day saying the Jays were potential suitors for either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez…

So how’s about a little look at both of them and what they have to offer.

I’m going to completely ignore the money aspect of this because, frankly, so should the Jays. They are all in at this point. Or at least that’s what it seems like. To me, there should be no hang-ups about adding both guys, but then, I don’t run Canada’s only Major League baseball team. Besides, money just convolutes things too much… this is pure baseball, we’re talking about here, man. Forget the money.

Anyways. Let’s see what we got here:

Ervin Santana is 31, and spent very little time in the minors before getting promoted by the Angels in 2005 at age 22, after that, he more or less stuck in the bigs, and has gone 105-90 over his nine year career, and pitched 1686.2 innings. He has a career ERA of 4.19.

Ubaldo Jimenez is a little younger. He’s turning 30 in late January of this year, and took more of a traditional path through the minors with the Rockies. Made more stops than Santana, spent more time at AAA, etc.  As a result he has little less big league mileage on the arm at 1275.2 IP. He’s gone 82-75 over that time with a 3.92 ERA – although that includes more time spent in relief.

Obviously there’s so much more to the puzzle though. For instance, Toronto is a hitter friendly ballpark, and we’ve seen our fair share of long balls there in the last couple years. (I’ll never forget Dickey’s reaction to a homer early last season… very “That went out of here!?!?”) And as anecdotal as that is, there’s truth to it, so maybe it makes sense to go with a guy who allows less long balls.

What does the tale of the tape say here?

Both of the pitchers had pretty fugly 2012 seasons, and managed to bounce back all right last season.

Santana: His career HR/FB rate is a no-so-great 11%. It’s also been generally trending upwards over his career, and included a horrific 18% rate in his terrible 2012 season. Interestingly though, his groundball rate has improved substantially in the last three years. For the first six years of his career it sat in the 35-38% range, and suddenly over the last three seasons it’s been between 43-46% – basically about the league average. So it’s a little strange to be giving up less flies, but having the ball go out just as much. But that’s where he’s at.

He’s also supposedly working on a new pitch. So that’s something.

Jimenez: Career HR/FB rate is better, at 8.7%. His too though has trended upwards a bit and the total average was brought down by his fantastic 2010 season (in which it was a sterling 5.1%). Jimenez’s groundball rate has started trending the wrong way a little bit too over the years. But it’s still been pretty respectable, and even at it’s lowest depths hasn’t really been worse than Santana’s overall. Also, his K-rate (save for 2012) has been on the upward climb too. Even with his terrible start to 2013, he hit a high water mark last year with 9.56 K/9.

The last thing to consider here (or at least that I will consider here) is Jimenez’s funky delivery. I don’t claim to have any particularly insightful knowledge of pitching mechanics… or any type of mechanics for that matter. Fortunately, there are people smarter than me who do. Follow that link and you’ll see something going awry with his delivery that causes a 5 mph drop in fastball velocity. Yikes.

For an interesting comparison of the two pitchers, take a look at these graphs from Brooks Baseball, representing their horizontal movement on their release point over their careers.


Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)



While Santana’s has changed over the years, his release point for all his pitches tends to be consistent. Jimenez, not so much. Particulalry that ugly 2012, and the early half of 2013, which was equally awful. (Jimenez had five starts in April 2013, with ERAs of 1.5, 6.97, 11.25, 10.06, and 7.12.)

So basically what we’ve got here is an interesting situation. Two pitchers, presenting two very different cases.

Santana looks like the safer bet. He is consistent, and durable and while he won’t put up game-changing numbers he will eat some innings and deliver enough quality starts to keep us all happy. His HR/FB rate might not play so well in the Dome, especially as balls have been flying out of there as of late. But for what it’s worth, he’s given up 6 in 52.0 innings at the Rogers Centre in his career, which is a small sample, but more or less in line with his career 1.22 HR/9.

Jimenez represents a very contrasting picture. He’s a bit more risky, but also more rewarding if he plays to his potential. If the Jays got Jimenez and he was able to replicate his second half of 2013, or his 2010 season, their rotation would become dramatically more competitive. Especially if slotting in a guy like Marcus Stroman works out. And even Jimenez’s down years have proven to be more valuable in terms of fWAR than Santana’s have. He also did this with a baseball.

So since I’m a gambling man, I’ll take Jimenez. I like the high risk/high reward model Anthopoulous tends to employ. Hell, maybe even R.A. Dickey can help coach Jimenez into improving his release point. In a perfect world, the team gets both… and Tanaka to boot. But we don’t always get what we want… so, Ubaldo, you get my vote.

And I know said it wasn’t about the money, but Jimenez likely comes much cheaper than Santana, so there’s that too. 

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