You know the current storyline when it comes to the New York Yankees: They need a starting pitcher. Or two. The Robinson Cano drama has evaporated. Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran have been the big additions in New York's attempt to offset Cano's departure -- and his production, of course. There's still that whole Alex Rodriguez thing that needs a resolution, sure, and it's far from irrelevant given the potential financial effects that will ensue.
But New York has turned its attention to the starting pitching market, and the name that's drawing some buzz is Ubaldo Jimenez.
We know a couple of things about the Jimenez-Yankees chatter. One is obvious: the Yankees have interest in him. Let's call it conflicting interest, because Bob Klapisch reported in mid-December that New York isn't "leaning towards" Jimenez, whereas Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe recently spoke to a "few" general managers who believe that New York could in fact land Jimenez.
Of course, there is one glaring caveat, and that is indeed the $189 million luxury tax threshold that the Yankees are trying to get under -- and have been for quite some time now. And, to put it harshly, they could be failing -- which may not be a totally bad thing. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal believes that the Yankees could surpass the $189 figure, even without nabbing Masahiro Tanaka, who's reportedly looking for a deal in the five-year, $100 million neighborhood. So digest that. Then, pile on a potential $15-$17 million a year for Jimenez (he's looking for at least $17 million) and yeah, say "so long" to the plan.
No, I don't know for a fact that New York is going to wind up with both Tanaka and Jimenez. It is, reportedly, a possibility. But really, the point is that the Yankees are approaching the big 1-8-9.
However, we're not here to delve into the Yankees' enterprises, as attention-grabbing as they may be. Rather, we're here to discuss the idea of Ubaldo Jimenez sporting pinstripes -- and why it makes sense.
Where He Would Fit
This isn't hard to dissect. You have the easily identifiable sure things in CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, and you have the wild cards in David Phelps, Michael Pineda and Manny Banuelos.
There would be upside in rolling the dice on Pineda and Banuelos, but taking that route doesn't necessarily look like the wisest idea on paper, because they'd be taking a flyer on two pitchers fresh off major arm surgeries. Neither has a ton of major league experience, and Banuelos doesn't have any, for that matter. Maybe it pans out, and they'll surely save a few bucks if it does. But if it doesn't ... the back-end of the Yankees' rotation would be set up to crumble.
Then there's the safer route, which where Jimenez comes into play. Yes, money obviously becomes a bigger factor here, as a lowered risk factor doesn't come at a cheap price. But for the Yankees, taking the less riskier route (Jimenez) would eliminate one of their two potential question marks.
Now that that's settled ...
Strikeouts Are Good, Especially at Yankee Stadium
Jimenez racked up plenty of strikeouts in 2013, mustering baseball's 12th-best K% among qualified starters. This doesn't really deviate from Jimenez's career path. He's always been a strikeout guy (career 21.5 K%), so rest assured that 2013 wasn't an aberration.
But, other than drooling on Jimenez's knack for the strikeout, you can probably guess where I'm headed this. If you guessed, "Yankee Stadium Park Factors," you win.
It's not worth deliberately pretending that it isn't a factor, because it is. I know it is. You know it is. Certainly the pitchers know that it's staring at them. A quick glance at ESPN's park factors will confirm that too. Strikeouts avoid the problem completely because, you know, strikeouts are strikeouts -- the hitter simply takes a seat, no weirdness attached. Which means no cheap home runs, in this case.
Jimenez obviously isn't going to strike everyone out. No one does. But that's not necessarily the point. The more a pitcher can keep the ball out of the air in Yankee Stadium, the better. Ground balls do the trick too, but Jimenez, at least in recent years, hasn't been a huge ground ball pitcher.
Now, just how concerned should we be with home runs at Yankee Stadium and how Jimenez would fit, well ...
The Long Ball
Jimenez doesn't have a problem with the long ball. Disregarding 2012 (1.27 HR/9), he's situated himself comfortably under the league average since 2010, posting HR/9 ratios under 1.00. And hey, he posted a 6.5 fWAR while pitching close to half of his games in Coors Field in 2010. Yankee Stadium is rough, but Coors Field is just a bit rougher. Pretty impressive, I'd say.
But if we had to dig up a caveat, it's Yankee Stadium's right field porch, and since Jimenez is a righty, said porch becomes an easier home run target for lefties than it would be for lefties against lefties or righties against lefties.
In a visual ...
FanGraphs' Park Factors
Just as we expected: Lefty power hitters -- or any type of lefty hitter, really -- tend to have an advantage over righties. It's not a huge advantage, not as dramatic as Petco Park and Progressive Field's righty versus lefty 2013 park factor splits. But, it's there.
In Jimenez's case, however, perhaps we're overstating the possible Yankee Stadium caveat. Consider this: He pitched at Coors Field for six years, and in those six years, he mustered a HR/9 ratio under 1.00, with his first two years (1.1 HR/9 total) slightly skewing the overall total. So that 0.6 conceivably could've been even better.
And the main takeaway here is not so much the numbers alone. They're good. Really good. But it's the numbers coupled with the context of Coors Field -- against lefties -- that make them even better.
|Year||Yankee Stadium||Coors Field|
Note that the 2006, 2007 and 2008 numbers come from the old Yankee Stadium. And keep in mind, the numbers above are for just lefties.
How about that? They're almost dead even as home run suppressing environments to lefties. Don't let the general perception fool you. Yes, Yankee Stadium is a heaven for lefty hitters, but Coors Field, statistically, is basically the same.
I am removing Progressive Field from the break down, but the pattern remains more or less the same. It's a favorable park for lefties, as it has a 105 average home run factor since 2011 (when Jimenez arrived via trade from Rockies). A little less drastic, obviously, but you get the point.
So let's conclude: Jimenez is not remotely close to home run happy, and he's had plenty of experience pitching in hitter-friendly environments. And in that sense, he'd be a good fit right in at Yankee Stadium.
This one is a bit overlooked, possibly because the art of framing is something that we don't completely understand yet. Still, it's worth merely acknowledging, especially since it's something that might've had an impact on Jimenez's resurgence.
Of course, that "something" is Indians catcher, Yan Gomes. Again, it's not perfect science, but StatCorner ranks him as baseball's eighth-best catcher (1000 pitches minimum). That ranking is broken down into a handful of categories which are then put into one overall number -- RAA (Runs Above Average). Gomes, for reference, was about 15 runs above average.
We can get a bit more detailed with that numbers that go into the overall RAA. For instance, Gomes collected an extra 1.5 strikes per game and 115 for the season. There's also outside of the strike zone strike percentage, and vice versa for pitches inside of the hypothetical strike zone. It's not extremely complicated. But all we need to know for the sake of this section is a confirmation of Gomes' competence behind the plate and how that might've contributed to Jimenez's resurgence.
With that in mind, I went over to Jimenez's game log on Baseball-Reference and found a few notable trends. One, Gomes didn't start consistently catching him until late August -- August 29, to be exact. And without getting too detailed, the switch paid off. A lot, as Jimenez mustered a fantastic 1.49 ERA while striking out 61 batters in 48.1 innings from August 29 through season's end -- Gomes caught all of seven of those games. Another tidbit that I dug up: Jimenez threw strikes 66% of the time in those final seven starts, a 5% increase from his previous 25 starts, when Jimenez's primary receiver was Carlos Santana, baseball's 12th-worst backstop in 2013.
Now, it probably wouldn't be entirely accurate to chalk up Jimenez's surge all to Gomes' consistent presence, because there are a slew of other factors. It's not worth listing them all here, but just think about it. For one, Jimenez has to have the skills. That's a given. A good catcher doesn't magically make the ball find its way into the strike zone. Additionally, poor stuff and poor command doesn't magically miss bats. Still, this whole Gomes-Jimenez battery has some correlations with Jimenez's surge, and it'd be ignorant not to acknowledge it.
As for where I'm headed with this ...
Well, if we muster up the courage to assume that Jimenez winds up with the Yankees, he'd be going from Gomes to Brian McCann (12th-best catcher). The hope then, of course, is that the drop-off would only be marginal. Sure, Gomes is younger, has fresher legs and already has experience operating with Jimenez. All good things, but the gap, even if McCann logs a few more days as New York's designated hitter, shouldn't be too wide. In the short term, at least.
So, it's just something to keep in mind, not overvalue.
Jimenez doesn't come without his flaws. He will cost a compensatory draft pick. For the Yankees, that wouldn't be a huge obstacle, given that they've already coughed up their first-rounder. Additionally, one could point to the weak competition that he faced during his resurgence, which can basically be summed up as followed: Twins, Astros, White Sox and Marlins. And finally, 2012 isn't entirely irrelevant (5.06 FIP).
Of course, those flaws can't be masked, but, on the same token, the 16-game stretch (July 4-September 29) in which he posted a 2.18 ERA can't be masked either, and if you have a "what have you done for me lately" approach, Jimenez is your guy.
But it's all about finding a balance, or getting relatively close. Putting too much value into one negative year or one trend would skew the big picture, and vice versa for positive trends. Still, Jimenez seems like a good fit. He's not yet on the wrong side of 30 and he still has plenty of upside. And we have already discussed the tangibles in detail. There's a lot to like.
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Jake Dal Porto is a writer at Beyond The Box Score and Golden Gate Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @TheJakeMan24.