Ubaldo Fallacies

2.) He’s not pitching well this year.

In the first couple months of 2011 Ubaldo’s misfortune rivaled his good fortune from 2010.  He suffered especially from a hangnail that made it difficult to grip the baseball, as well as some strains and sprains that slowed his preparation for the season.  He spent a couple weeks on the DL and even after he returned it was clear his arm strength and command were not where he would’ve liked them to be.  His average and peak velocity are down from previous seasons.

It needs to be pointed out that by “down,” we are still talking about a guy who has not thrown a fastball that registered below 91 MPH, frequently touches 97 MPH, and still ranks #8 among starting pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 93.4 MPH, which is the same, by the way, as Sabathia and Felix Hernandez.  In recent games, his averaged fastball has been substantially higher than that, though still below the 96.1 MPH average he registered in 2010.

Since June 1 he has a 2.56 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, and a K/BB ratio of better than 4 to 1.  And it’s not merely because he’s been feasting on the Dodgers and Padres.  His opponents over that span have included the Yankees, Tigers, White Sox, Braves, and Brewers.  He may have started slow, but this is by no means a lost season.

3.) He is the ghost of Javier Vazquez.

I recognize and appreciate that there is a substantial amount of pain associated with the 2004 season.  Whether fairly or not, Javier Vazquez has become symbolic of that pain.  The abjection and regret which coincides with a historically proportioned loss always finds a scapegoat.  Bill Buckner.  Steve Bartman.  Ralph Branca.

But it’s time to excise these demons.  When feelings of resignation overwhelm reason, Yankees fans too ofter resort to “remember Javy Vazquez”-framed arguments.  Let’s play a game.  You name the team and I’ll name the pitcher who turned into a pumpkin when he moved there.  These things happen.  It certainly doesn’t mean you should never again trade for a starting pitcher.

Cashman traded Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate for a 27-year-old pitcher with proven durability who had averaged 5.6 WAR/YR over the previous three seasons.  Make that trade without hesitation, every single time.  Oh, and by the way, even Vazquez went 10-5 with a 3.56 ERA and made the All-Star team in his first season as a Yankee.  His injury-riddled second-half implosion is an outlier which proves nothing, even of Vazquez, let alone of Jimenez.

4.) He’s not Cliff Lee.

What are the Phillies doing!?!  It’s July 19th and there haven’t been any Cliff Lee rumors!  How dare they?  Every July, whoever has Cliff Lee trades him for a boatload of 22-year-olds to the team that gets to go to the World Series.  Those are the rules.  Right?

With no Lee, no Sabathia, and no Roy Halladay to turn the rumor mill, we are left with the impression that Ubaldo Jimenez is just a consolation prize.  While Ubaldo certainly doesn’t have Lee’s track record, he’s also free of the age, contract, and impending free agency that comes along with it.  Cliff Lee will make more money between Opening Day 2012 and the All-Star Break than Ubaldo does in the next two and a half years.  Whatever risks there are with Ubaldo, the risk to reward ratio is extremely favorable simply because of the length and price of his current contract.

5.) His success is largely due to the weakness of his competition.

First of all, there are many metrics, including WAR, which attempt to compensate for environment and competition.  Ubaldo fairs quite well in all of these.  While it is certainly true that he gets more than his fair share of games in San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, he also plays in two of the most hitter-friendly stadiums in baseball: Arizona and, of course, his home field in Colorado, which has been #1 in run-scoring in for three of the last five seasons, and never lower than #3.  In terms of the traditional stats, let’s test the theory of the NL West’s inferiority:

Ubaldo v. NL West: 24-21, 3.60 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Ubaldo v. Everybody Else: 31-23, 3.60 ERA, 1.33 WHIP

Again, I’m not claiming that every argument against trading for Ubaldo is irrational, just the one founded on the above, inaccurate statements.  I will offer one more relevant piece of information:

Manuel Banuelos is a promising prospect.  Maybe he’ll turn into Jon Lester.  However, here are the names of some other acclaimed prospects who posted as good or even superior numbers in the Eastern League in recent memory…at the same approximate age as Banuelos: Kyle Drabek, Chris Tillman, Yusmeiro Petit, Jeanmar Gomez, Jon Niese, Tyler Clippard, Kevin Mulvey, and Adam Miller.

Make of it what you will.

About Matt Seybold

Matt teaches at The University of Alabama. Roll Tide. He specializes in American Literature and Rhetorical Economics. Fate chose for him the peculiar perdition of rooting for the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

21 thoughts on “Ubaldo Fallacies

  1. A little unfair to throw Drabek in there, right? 72 inning sample size in pros?

    • My point was just to show the range. I certainly believe Drabek, Tillman, Niese, etc. could turn out to be really valuable players.

      • Yeah, kind of a lame and slanted article, though. Ubaldo is not Cliff Lee. He just doesn't have the track record, plain and simple, especially in the AL. You seem to look intently at the times when Ubaldo has been good while excusing the times when he's been less good, as if injuries/durability don't matter. You really did not pay sufficient attention to his drop in fastball velocity this year which has the risk of becoming a trend.

        Bottom line is that Ubaldo is a great pitcher who MAY be an ace in the AL east, but is not worth Montero, Banuelos, Betances, AND Nova (who actually has a short, but decent track record pitching in the AL). Why not just throw in Brett Gardner and Dave Robertson while we are at it?

        What the Rockies are asking for is ridiculous for a pitcher even with Jimenez's track record. Fortunately, by all accounts Cashman knows this and will give them no more than two of Montero, Banuelos, and Betances, which means the deal will probably not happen and all of this will be much ado about nothing (but will be fun to watch how it plays out with all the careers mentioned here over the few years).

  2. These are fair points, but we should also consider where the Yankees are right now as a franchise.

    The team is in transition. The Jeter era is just about over. Since the mid-90s, the Yankees have been contenders every singly year, largely because they could always count on a core of strong players. It's not just that Jeter, Mo, Bernie, Jorge, Andy, etc. were good players. It's that the Yankees had the benefit of their services for a long time. Once you have that core, it's relatively easy to add on your Paul O'Neils, Jason Giambis, Mark Teixerias, but you have to have the core to build from.

    You can't keep reloading through free agency. At some point, you have to be able to build around guys who spend almost all of their careers with the Yankees.

    Is there a solid chance that Montero, Banuelos and Bettances ALL bust? Of course. But the core the Yankees have relied on for so many years is built around players all 30 or over. Jeter and Posada are already finished. A-Rod might be running out of star caliber seasons. Tex is entering his decline phase. To continue contend every year going forward, I think the Yankees NEED to get more youth up from the farm system.

    Cano and now Gardner have been excellent additions. But if we want the 2010's the be as successful as the 2000s, the farm is gonna have to keep producing. Would Jimenez be a great addition to the rotation? Sure. But what do the 2014 Yankees look like?

    Is it completely absurd to think about the 2014 Yankees?

    • The flip side to that is that most of that core talent has been position players, and very good for a long time pitching talent has been much scarcer out of the system. Which makes sense because pitching is very hard to develop. So when you have a chance to get a Ubaldo, especially in light of what the pitching market looks like in the near future, you have to be very aggressive in pursuing the deal.

      • That depends on what you mean by near future. I know for the Yankees with the every year needs to produce a championship motto that means right now but am I the only one who thinks that motto is ridiculous? Im glad we aim to win the WS every year, I mean everybody should but to expect it is not reasonable. But looking forward to what I think is a pretty near future which is the 2013 free agency class there are a lot of pitchers I would like to see in pinstripes. I know they wont all hit free agency but theres really a lot to go around. Im just trying to say we need to start being a little more patient than this mandate of win or die allows us to be.

        • 2 years is a pretty long time, and making assumptions about what will happen then is difficult. Would I wait for Weaver or Hamels if I knew they were going to be available then? Sure, that would be great. The problem is I'm pretty sure we're never going to get to that point, and both of those guys will probably be locked up between then and now. Remember, this time in 2009 we were all looking forward to King Felix being a free agent at the end of this season, and how did that work out?

          So taking out the guys with team options that will get picked up or who will probably be extended, the best pitcher left is probably Greinke, but the Yankees have already shown they don't want him. So scratch him off. The it's Liriano. You really want to put a sizeable bet down on his arm? Especially if it's true that he doesn't take his conditioning program seriously when he doesn't have a big guaranteed money, do you want to give him $80 million+? Matt Cain is attractive, but if you take him out of spacious AT&T Park can he continue to defy the laws of FIP? And that's assuming the Giants don't get him signed. Fausto Carmona? Ha.

          So what are we left with? Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, and Anibal Sanchez. And that's assuming they make it there.

      • What happens when Ubaldo becomes a FA after 2013? You break the bank and throw Ubaldo a long term 15-20mil per (or more) that it will likely take to keep him? (given his current outrageously cheap contract he's going to be looking for some dollars)

        2014 pitching: CC, 4 open spots (And the MAJOTR problem is that Hughes, AJ and Ubaldo would all hit FA at the same time.) Maybe the Yankees find one longer term option next year or in 2013, but with the 4 guys above the rotation only has one real slot after this trade. and then a massive hole in 2014.

        At that point you have 100 mil in all likelihood tied up in ARod/.CC/Tex/Cano (I'm assuming CC works something out and Scott Boras gets Cano paaaaaid as he's a FA in '14 as well). You'll need a SS (even if Jeter exercises his player option); some guy named Granderson will be a FA in 2014 (and if you move Gardner over than you just shift the need to LF)

        • But on the other side, what happens in 2014 when Banuelos and Betances fail to develop like we hope they will? Which isn't to say that's going to happen, but to reiterate the point that there's always going to be risk involved anytime you're trying to imagine what you're pitching situation is going to look like 3 years down the road. What if I told you in July of 2008 that the Yankees 2011 rotation would be Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and Ivan Nova?

    • Thank you JP! I feel like i got blasted a little on a previous post when i said please no to this deal. Hey i like the guy and hes a fine pitcher. And no i dont know what our prospects will turn out to be. But the Yankees need to change a little how they do business. Ryan Braun, Car Go, Tulo, Longo are examples of what I mean. Teams are locking up young talented kids to long term deals early in an attempt to keep them from reaching free agency. There are fewer and fewer impact free agents out there and when they do the price is exorbitant. People have it wrong. The Yankees cant go out and "buy" championships. Their financial might allows them to augment their young home grown players the pricey vets so we dont have to rely on the kids to carry us as we go through our bumps and bruises. And keep that core and discard those vets when they have run out of usefulness. And absorb bad contracts. Iv gotten off topic il stop lol

  3. Enjoyed the article, but I think you missed the point on Javier Vazquez. The first round of Vazquez I can forgive and forget. He started very strong, pitched hurt, and thanks to injuries and a series of awful contracts was the only arm available to stop the bleeding once Kevin Brown(?) let game 7 of the ALCS get out of control.

    The second round of Javy is what would concern me. Lights out NL pitcher (and Cy Young candidate!) coming to the AL and getting bombed. Even though Ubaldo would be coming from Colorado I think I will always be skeptical of NL pitchers coming to the AL East without prior AL cred. That and I have to wonder Colorado's motivation in trading him. They lock up CarGo and Tulo but let their young ace with a very friendly contract walk?

    I'd be wary of this deal but would welcome him with open arms if the price was right. Getting back to Javy, at least the deal for him wasn't exactly painful.

    • That's a very illogical comparison. Vazquez is much older than Ubaldo, and his arm basically went out on him last year. It's not that he just couldn't pitch well and get outs, he basically washed out physically.

  4. Nice article, and since I rose the point about a diminished fastball, it's good to know it's ticking up. To someone entering his prime that would seem to make a lot more sense if he's actually "healthy". After hearing all the facts over the last week or so, I'm on board with sending the system for him. I just hope the front office isn't too committed to it's new found "homegrown" philosophy that they do send an aggressive offer out. Honestly, don't you guys remember what his sinker looked like the first half of 2010?! It was like watching Pedro circa 1999.

    • In last night's game (a dominant performance against the Braves) he was pitching at 93-95 and occasionally dialing it upwards. While I do think he's healthy and can dominate at his current velocity, I'm not sure we're going to see the guy who was capable to throwing triple digits this year.

  5. Here's something no one else seems to be focused on: CC Sabathia. Are we really so certain he is going to gleefully re-up as long as we pony up a reasonable amount of dollars and years (to bring his contract in line with Lee's)? What if the Yankees do not make the playoffs because their starting pitching implodes in the second half, and CC is staring down four years fronting a rotation headed by him, two inconsistent guys who are really number 4 starters, and whoever else Cashman can claim off the scrap heap? Might he start thinking he has a better chance of winning another ring by teaming with the 2 young guns in Seattle, joining the Freak in San Fran, or, perish the thought, either slotting in between Lester and Beckett in Boston, or making it a four-headed monster in Philly?

    All that said, wouldn't having Ubaldo in the fold rather than some prospect dreams make it more likely he'll stay? If so, then maybe this is really a deal for 2 front line starters.

    • You are right. I have them making the playoffs pretty easily, maybe 85% to do that. But against top staffs, you have CC against Beckett or Halladay or Lincecum, fine, but then who against Lester or Lee or Cain? AJ, Hughes, or Colon?

      They are constructed to win lots of games, but in a short series it could be trouble if they don't do something. Remember the Series against Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling? We had a vastly superior team, but it didn't matter.

      This could certainly affect what CC thinks about staying here.

  6. (Continued)
    This goes back to last year. The Yanks throw in Nunez (a thoroughly-replaceable commodity) and they get Lee. The get Lee, they win the ALCS, and anything can happen in the World Series. They ride down the Canyon of Heroes in back-to-back years (again), and isn't re-upping with NY more attractive to Lee?

    • The Yankees backed out because it became apparent Seattle was just stringing them along, and they were trying to put the screws to Jack Z. But once Texas offered up Smoak it was pretty much over, because he was the guy Seattle wanted all along.

  7. I believe that there could be a way to dramatically improve the team and still retain Montero, Banuelos, and Betances.

    The match that I see is Minnesota, and my trade would make us a much better, more balanced team. Of course it would be contingent on Minnesota going into the toilet. They are six out in an incredibly bad division, so they may still harbor some delusions.

    We would receive Liriano. I know, plenty of question marks, not somebody that you want to pay huge for. I get all of that. However, he is left handed, which we need, and when he is "on" he can be very tough. Definitely value there.

    We would also receive Michael Cuddyer. He is a rental with an expiring contract. He is a very good right handed bat, and he can play about half of the positions on the field. None supurbly, but this would be a great fit on our team.

    The price: I would say Nova, Noesi, and Romine. Keep in mind that Minnesota is a cheap, small market franchise that is stuck with the disastrous Mauer contract – $23M for 8 years for a guy that can't necessarily catch anymore. They traded away Ramos to Washington, so they might like a talented young catcher, nearly MBL ready. Nova and Noesi look like sure MBL starters, cheap and under control for a long time.

    If not this one, I believe that this is the type of deal that they should look at, rather than giving up half of the farm system. We are very good anyway, and only incremental improvements are needed.

    • We'll know whether Minnesota is selling by the end of the week, but I don't think Liriano will be as cheap as you suggest. One of the top three will need to be included. But, I agree, if that becomes an option, I would jump at it. Liriano is a lot more risky than Ubaldo, but he's got at least as much upside, maybe more, and if you don't have to sell the entire system, the risk is seriously mitigated.

  8. When he is on he can definitely win you a game, and he is left handed. However, overall I don't believe that he is worth very much:


    2005 – -0.1
    2006 – 4
    2007 – .5
    2008 – -0.6
    2009 – 3.8
    2011 – .5

    Cuddy on the other hand is somebody that would really help us. Improved DH, and sub for almost anybody on the field.

    Probably far fetched. Just a thought from left field.