The Next King Felix?
August 15, 2007

Ubaldo Jimenez is not a name that most people were familiar with before last night.  But like Nook Laloosh in "Bull Durham" he finally announced his presence with authority: six innings of one hit ball with 9 strikeouts against a playoff-level team that he was seeing for the second time.  So who is this guy?  Is he someone to keep an eye on or was last night a fluke?

Short answer: keep an eye on him.  Better yet, get him now.

When he was drafted, scouts compared his stuff to that of Felix Hernandez.  He has a fastball that has touched 99 mph (but mostly sits in the 93-95 range) that has two plane movement in on right-handers.  He also has a hard, sharp slider and a curve that rivals the best in recent memory.  What I like most about him though is his willingness to throw his change.  That may not sound like much, especially since it's really just an average change, but it's a really good sign when a guy as young as Jimenez wants to try to pitch rather than try to overpower everyone.  That's an especially rare characteristic in someone who has stuff as good as his.  

Most real and fantasy baseball analysts will look at his numbers in the minors and warn you that he doesn't have good control and that it's only a matter of time before the league catches up with him.  He may have occasional struggles but only because he's young.  However, Jimenez has shown to be a fairly quick study so there's a good possibility that he might adjust as quickly as the league does. 

Just look at his numbers in Triple-A this year.  His first start was a disaster and April was not a good month overall.  But his progression each month was very encouraging: his walk rate declined and his groundball rate increased. 

Month  W  L  ERA    G GS CG SHO SV   IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB  SO  GO/AO  AVG
April  1  2  10.90  4  4  0  0   0  17.3  22  23  21   2  14  11  1.05  .310
May    1  1  4.54   6  6  0  0   0  35.6  31  19  18   3  22  30  1.17  .237
June   3  2  6.32   6  6  0  0   0  31.3  40  25  22   4  17  32  1.95  .320
July   3  0  2.89   3  3  1  0   0  18.6  17   7   6   0   9  16  4.75  .254

Guys who strikeout a lot of guys with improving control and get a ton of groundballs have a name: stud.   Here is a breakdown of his last seven starts in Colorado Springs

Date     OPP    W    L    ERA    IP    H    ER    BB    SO   
12-Jun   @SLC   1    0    1.80   5.0    4    1     4     8   
17-Jun   FRE    0    1    6.00   6.0    8    4     1     6   
23-Jun   @POR   1    0    1.80   5.0    5    1     3     5   
28-Jun   SLC    0    1    6.00   6.0    7    4     2     6   
3-Jul    POR    1    0    5.40   5.0    6    3     3     5   
8-Jul    @SLC   1    0    1.35   6.67   5    1     3     8   
13-Jul   TUC    1    0    2.57   7.0    6    2     3     3    WHIP
Total                     3.54  40.67  41   16    19    41    1.4754
While each start taken on its own is not that impressive, the aggregate ends up being pretty nice for a 22-year old pitching in the most hitter friendly environment in baseball: four starts in the launching pad that is Colorado Springs, plus two starts in high altitude Salt Lake.  

It'd be easy to dismiss his first major league start, a tilt against the punchless Nationals in RFK in which he allowed 7 baserunners and 2 earned runs in 5 innings with 5 strikeouts, as beginner's luck.  But in his next start in Colorado he scattered 4 hits in 7 innings versus the Padres with the only runs coming on a Mike Cameron three-run homer.  No shame in that.  His next start was less than dominating, but still effective enough to keep the Dodgers at bay long enough for his first major league win.  Yes, none of those teams boast a powerhouse offense, but with the unbalanced schedule the Padres and Dodgers will be on his regular schedule.  Two rough starts against the surging Braves and Cubs drove his asking price down but after his last start versus the Padres, people are going to take notice.  

Now like any youngster he's going to show his frustration from time to time, unravel for an inning and give up a few runs.  But the Rockies have a very under-rated pitching coach in Bob Apodaca and their catchers do a nice job of handling pitchers so I like his chances to exceed most people's expectations.  In fantasy, getting more production than what you paid for is the formula for winning.  Long term, I think he has higher upside Jeff Francis; he certainly has better stuff.  I haven't seen the Rockies other uber-pitching prospect Franklin Morales but I understand he also has great stuff.  But until Morales shows me otherwise, Jimenez will be the Rockies best starting pitcher for the near- and intermediate future.

Speaking of best starting pitchers in a team's history, Jake Peavy is 22 strikeouts from becoming the Padres' all-time leader.  He's also just 30 wins from passing the team's franchise leader, Eric Show, as well as 7 hit batsmen shy (held by Joey Hamilton).  Should he spend the next four years with the Padres, he's a good bet to become the all-time team leader in innings pitched (745 innings away) and games started (91 starts away).  Trevor Hoffman holds the team records for ERA, WHIP, saves, hits per 9 and strikeouts per 9 obviously.  Those records won't likely ever be challenged by another Padre.  

Interestingly enough, the hitters' side for the Padres is likewise dominated but just by one guy: Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.  He owns every single significant Padre career hitting record - average, games, plate appearances, runs, hits, doubles, triples, total bases, RBI, walks, stolen bases, extra base hits, times on base, runs created, sac flies and of course, singles... he owns them all except one: home runs.  Nat Colbert owns that one with 163 career homers as a Padre.  But here's the weird thing about that - no active player is particularly close to breaking it.  Phil Nevin (156) is #2 but his career looks done.  Ryan Klesko (133) is #5.  Steve Finley is tied for ninth with Carmelo Martinez with 82.  The current Padre with the most career dingers as a Padre?  Would you believe Khalil Greene with 66?  Brian Giles has 63.  Nate Colbert's record is quite safe for at least a few more years.  Given the burst of home runs we've witnessed over the last decade it's pretty wild that a record so seemingly easy to surpass has lasted since 1974.  And the Padres remain one of only two teams in the majors that has neither had a player hit for the cycle or a pitcher throw a no-hitter.  The other is the Devil Rays, who've been around for almost 30 fewer years.  Strange but true.

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