Time for the Orioles to panic about Ubaldo Jimenez?


Apr 13, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) takes the ball from starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez (31) in the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Blue Jays won 11-3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Another Ubaldo Jimenez outing, another disappointing outcome for the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles were beaten-up by the Toronto Blue Jays this afternoon 11-1. Starter Ubaldo Jimenez gave up five earned runs in 5.1 innings on 10 hits and two walks, dropping Jimenez’s record to 0-3 and raising his ERA to 7.31.

Jimenez’s addition was praised by most when he signed his four-year, $50 million contract in February. After three starts, who is ready to jump off the bandwagon?

What fans have seen so far from Jimenez is what they should have expected. He’s always been a pitcher that runs a high pitch count and sometimes struggles with control, which leads to short outings. He’s failed to make it through the sixth inning in all three of his starts thus far.

He traditionally starts the season slowly and holds a career ERA in March and April of 5.14. He also traditionally picks it up later in the season, boasting a 3.89 and 3.17 ERA in May and June, respectively.

But there’s reason to believe he may not bounce back as he has in previous seasons.

Jimenez’s fastball velocity has taken another dive this season, currently down to an average of 90.7 mph compared to last year’s 92.1 mph. His velocity has dropped every year since 2009, but how far can it dip and still remain effective enough to retire major league hitters?

Jimenez’s pitch value/100, quantifying how many runs above or below average a pitcher allows with a given pitch, shows that Jimenez has been significantly less effective with his two-seam fastball this year. Jimenez permits 5.14 more runs per 100 two-seamers than the average pitcher.

In contrast, last year Jimenez allowed 1.04 fewer runs to score per 100 two-seam fastballs.

With his velocity down, hitters seem to have caught up to his fastball this year, and Jimenez is constantly putting himself in a position where he has to throw them by going down early in the count.

When Jimenez is working ahead, he can throw his most effective pitch and the key to his 2013 renaissance, his recently acquired splitter. Jimenez allows three runs less than the average pitcher with his splitter.

The key for Jimenez is getting strike one to set that pitch up, and that will become increasingly challenging if Jimenez continues to struggle with his fastball.

Jimenez is not the only member of the Orioles rotation struggling. Collectively, Orioles starters are 2-7, but his shortcomings become more obvious with the attention he’s received as a high-profile offseason addition.

Most considered Jimenez’s contract a value at about $12.5 million per year, but if he continues to trend downward, the Orioles may soon regret the transaction.

The team stepped beyond their normal parameters to sign a free agent pitcher to a contract beyond three years. If Jimenez doesn’t find a way to make his fastball more effective, those four years sound more like a prison term than a contract length.