Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Look Back at the Ubaldo Jimenez Trade: Various Thoughts

After Ubaldo Jimenez was traded from the Colorado Rockies to the Cleveland Indians, various baseball writers offered up their opinions on the trade. Keith Law, for instance, seems to take the position the Indians were wrong to buy at the deadline when they acquired Jimenez because the club was really still in a rebuilding phase (at least that’s what I gathered from reading the first couple of paragraphs: I’m not an ESPN insider). Others at fangraphs.com questioned the Rockies motivations for selling on Ubaldo while both considering injuries and value.

These articles make good points. The Indians really do not have a decisive direction to go in long term. Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall are too new and too inexperienced to say for sure that some of the Indian's young pieces are turning them into a contender while they have team control and it is hard (though not impossible) to imagine Matt Laporta turning into much more than he currently is at 1b. The pitching staff has enjoyed an excellent season. Staff leader Justin Masterson has pitched well but enjoyed some luck with his low BABIP and HR/FB rates. The team is very much in the middle ground, not quite coming or going. Much of their future success could hinge on how Jimenez adjusts to the AL and if Grady Sizemore can recover from his injury troubles by next season after which he is a free agent.

If we take the point of view the Indians are not close enough to compete right now to have made that trade, the assumption is the current win value of Jimenez to this team both this year and in future years relative to his contract is outweighed by the future win benefit of the prospects they gave up relative to their contracts and that current wins are less valuable than future wins. All of this probably makes sense. If you assume the prospects sold and current young players develop, and that the Indians will be better in the future, wins 3-5 years down the line will be more valuable in terms of team value and contract value and the collective wins provided by those players dealt might be superior to that of Jimenez.

However, there is another factor. Baseball is a business; a business meant to generate revenue for its owners. The Indians in this situation, whether or not they are lucky to have a shot at the division, have a shot at the division. If Jimenez is good enough to increase their odds of winning the division, you have to consider the revenue generated from the playoff appearance to the club, as well as potential impact the playoffs might have on future ticket sales and merchandising. This consideration is really even more unknown than the win values of the prospects traded simply because we are not privy to the data that would allow us, the outsider, to determine if it was a wise decision. We do not know the revenue generation from the playoff appearance in any form, and thus, it is somewhat fruitless to analyze this trade for value.

Fangraphs also enters into the equation the health of Jimenez. If we consult the PitchFX velocity charts, we see that Jimenez’s velocity is still down despite his move from Colorado. If you give credence to thought put forth here, that the altitude difference makes it harder for pitchers to recover, than it is possible the fatigued arm could lag, causing a timing problem, which in turn causes injury. However, Jimenez has really given no indications that he is hurt aside from the velocity dip. Further, while his delivery is somewhat unorthodox, it is actually very well balanced and well timed. His arm does not suffer from an extended or elongated motion pattern that would result in timing issues, instead he is always in the high cocked power V position upon rotating of the hips and his shoulders follow quickly thereafter. There’s nothing in his delivery that screams injury potential. That said, if he had injured himself in Colorado due to the fatigue theory, then it really does not matter if his mechanics are good. In this case, Jimenez’s velocity loss is a bit of a conundrum. Is it possible that Ubaldo simply did not condition himself as well to start the year? That explanation is really the only one I can come up with that would make sense.

Finally, despite Jimenez’s initial struggles, in my opinion, the Indians will no doubt be pleased with their acquisition provided he is still healthy. He is a great power pitcher with a gigantic arsenal of pitches who can strike guys out and induce ground balls. He is really the complete package aside from the problems with walks he has had throughout his career that has really kept him from entering the class of the truly elite. This season, a quick scroll through his numbers shows a pitcher who really has not had the benefit of any good fortune. His BABIP is .324 compared to a career average of .286, his Left on Base percentage is only 64.3% despite a career rate of 71.3% and his home run per fly ball rate of 10.1% this year is higher than his career total of 7.8%. Velocity loss or not, his peripheral stats suggest he is still quite good. Stay patient Indians fans.

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