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.