The Orioles top offseason priority was to improve their starting rotation. In 2013, the O’s starters ranked 27th in ERA (4.57), tied for last in FIP (4.94) and 24th in WAR (7.4). In signing Ubaldo Jimenez, Dan Duquette addressed that need despite waiting until Christmas eve to go out and get his shopping done — actually pitchers and catchers have already reported, Duq went out and spent on discounted items on December 26.
You’ve probably heard a lot about Jimenez since the deal popped up on Twitter timelines on Sunday evening. He was arguably the best pitcher in baseball in second half of last season (1.82 ERA, 10.7 K/9, 3.70 K/BB). Though his inconsistencies are admittedly a bit bothersome (All-Star who finished in third in AL Cy Young award voting in 2010, pitched to a 5.03 ERA, 1.504 WHIP over the next two seasons).
Besides improving upon a bad rotation, there are a couple reasons that I like this deal for the Orioles.
Though we haven’t heard all the financial details of Jimenez’s deal with the Orioles, we know he’ll be making $50 million over four seasons. That’s obviously a bit more than Steve Adams’ three-year, $39 million forecast in MLB Trade Rumors’ free agent profile. However, in examining Scott Feldman‘s three-year, $30 million deal with the Astros, Jason Vargas‘ four-year, $32 million deal with the Royals, Scott Kazmir‘s two-year, $22 million deal with the Athletics and Ricky Nolasco‘s four-year, $49 million deal with the Twins, I think Jimenez’s average annual value is very fair for the Orioles.
Matt Garza is probably the best comparison for Jimenez. Both starters are enter their ninth Major League season at age 30 and signed similar four-year, $50 million contracts. Garza is coming off 13 disappointing starts in Texas in which he pitched to a 4.38 ERA over 84.1 innings pitched while Jimenez pitched to a 2.40 ERA and held batters to a .240 batting average from June to September.
According to FanGraphs.com’s value totals (WAR converted to a dollar scale based on what a player would make in free agency), Jimenez was worth $16.1 last season with a 3.2 WAR. Four years might bother some, but initial reports indicate that the Orioles had to offer an additional year to beat out the Blue Jays and get the deal done.
It also dispels the myth that the Orioles won’t sign a free agent to starter to a contract longer than three seasons.
Keeping the ball on the ground is a must for any pitcher that wants to be successful in Coors Field. In five seasons with the Rockies, Jimenez posted 41.7%, 46.4%, 54.4%, 52.5%, 48.8% ground ball percentages on balls in play between 2006-2010. Additionally, Jimenez has been effective at keeping the ball in the yard, surrendering just 9.0% home runs per fly ball and 0.8 HR/9 in 2013.
Last season, he threw predominately a four-seam (33.5%) and two-seam fastball (15.2%), slider (22.8%) and changeup (18.9) working in a splitter (4.0%), curveball (3.7%) and cutter (1.9%) as well. His average four-seam fastball velocity in 2014 was 92.1 MPH while his changeup dipped to 82.2 MPH.
How does Jimenez project to perform this season? Let’s examine FanGraph’s Steamer and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA Projections.
Of course, it’s worth noting that these projections are with Cleveland.
Overall, I feel that the Orioles should not only be applauded for signing Jimenez, but for bringing him in at this value. Now that their first round pick has been forfeited, perhaps they should go out and add Kendrys Morales to bolster the lineup.