Going up against the heavy-hitting Bombers on Friday, Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez pitched seven innings in Yankee Stadium, allowing just four hits, four walks and two runs while striking out seven. Although Jimenez has been noted for a down year this season, by dealing with the Yankees as effectively as he did in the 4-2 win, he continued to deliver the happy half of his Jekyll-and-Hyde season.
After a poor Opening Day start in which he struck out just one Diamondbacks hitter, Jimenez had to spend 15 days on the disabled list with a cracked cuticle. Friday night’s start in New York was his 14th of the season, and he entered with a 2-7 record and a 4.68 ERA while allowing seven homers in 77 innings and a 2.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. What a difference a year makes; through June last season, Jimenez was arguably the best starter in the league, with a 14-1 record and a 1.83 ERA, posting a 2.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing just five home runs in 113 innings.
So what’s different between this year and last? For one, 10 of his first 16 starts last season were on the road, away from hitter-friendly Coors Field; in 2011, only five of his first 13 starts were on the road. This season he’s showing especially massive home/road splits. On the road, Jimenez has been averaging seven innings per start while delivering a 2.06 ERA and has allowed no home runs. He had allowed just 15 hits in those 35 innings. His victory over the Yankees extended his road success, as he threw another seven innings and did not allow a home run. At home, it has been a brutal, different story. Jimenez has averaged just more than five innings per start and has a 6.86 ERA, and all seven home runs he’s allowed were at Coors Field.
During the first half of last season, the splits between Coors versus everywhere else were there but not as severe. In his initial 10 road starts (73 innings), he had a 1.23 ERA, allowed just two home runs and had a .171/.261/.248 (BA/OBP/SLG) batting line against. At home (six starts, 39 innings), he posted a 2.95 ERA, three home runs allowed and .252/.317/.395 against. That’s still tremendously effective, considering it was at the best hitters' park in baseball, and it was much better than this season’s home-park nightmare.
A significant change in Jimenez’s performance is not to be found in his home/road splits, however. He has lost more than 2 mph on average from his fastball velocity this spring, that after his 96.1 mph velocity on his heat led the league by almost a full mile last season. Also, last year he generated swings and misses on 18 percent of his fastballs; this season that number is down to just 10 percent. In addition, his other pitches have shown a velocity drop of 1 to 2 mph, but it is his fastball that has always been what’s made him special.
In broad strokes, you might be able to accept that Jimenez is not too different than the pitcher who got off to such a spectacular start last season. Certainly, a few extra starts on the road will help his overall full-season numbers. However, if he can't find that extra velocity that seems to have disappeared from last season to this year, he'll be hard-pressed to fully regain his 2010 form.
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Dan Hennessey writes for Baseballin' on a Budget, the SweetSpot network affiliate covering the Oakland A's.