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.

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.

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?

  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?

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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?

  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.

  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:

    WAR

    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.