SleepersDecember 19, 2008

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Sleeper Watch

By Michael Marinakis

Not very often does a young pitcher with such a blazing fastball get overlooked. This is the case with Colorado’s soon to be 25-year old hurler, Ubaldo Jimenez. Going into his second full season in the majors, there is a lot to like about Jimenez. After a very short stint in the majors in 2006, he made the big club for good in June of 2007 throwing 82 innings of 4.28 ERA ball. In 2008, he followed up on his rookie campaign by throwing just under 200 innings with a 3.99 ERA in his first full season.

He came onto the major league scene throwing a fastball with an average speed of 95.8 MPH, which helped him post a solid strike-out rate of 7.46 K/9 in his rookie season. Along with his fastball, he has a nasty late-breaking slider, which has the potential to be a devastating pitch if he can gain better control. He also features a change-up, which averages nine MPH slower than his fastball, and a curve-ball which he uses to a lesser extent. With this arsenal of pitches, Jimenez has the makings of one of the top strikeout pitchers in the league. The only thing holding him back at this point is his inability to harness these pitches.

With a bit of experience under his belt, Jimenez seems to have made some adjustments which will help him to thrive in Coors Field. By taking about a MPH off his fastball, it seems Jimenez has added some extra movement and has become a great ground-ball pitcher, while actually improving his K/9 to 7.79. While still supporting a league leading 94.9 MPH fastball, Jimenez managed to substantially increase his ground-ball percentage from a solid 46.4% rate in 2007, to a superb 54.4% in 2008. The only other pitchers that boast a better ground-ball percentage is Brandon Webb (64.2%), Derek Lowe (60.3%) and Aaron Cook (55.9%). While his HR/FB of 6.9% will most likely regress closer to the 10-11% average, it’s safe to say that keeping the ball on the ground as much as he does will greatly help to limit the amount of long-balls that he gives up, even in Coors Field.

Jimenez wouldn’t be a sleeper if he didn’t have some issues to deal with. As I alluded to earlier, his main problem is his control and thus his tendency to allow free passes. He has had control problems throughout his career and it is unlikely he will make any huge strides going forward. However, he did improve to a small degree in the second half of the 2008 season, posting a 4.44 BB/9 after a 4.86 BB/9 in the first half. I think a 4.5 BB/9 is a very reasonable expectation going into the 2009 season. Despite his high walk totals, his high GB% and strong K rate should help him keep the amount of runs scored down and allow him to post a respectable ERA, though his WHIP will likely remain high.

All-in-all, I expect Jimenez to provide quite a bit more value than his average draft position would suggest. With 72 inter-divisional games, he should see about 14-15 starts against the weak NL West. Fewer than half of his starts will be against one of the weakest divisions in baseball and I think around 205 innings with a 3.85 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 180 Ks seems like a reasonable projection. There is also room for him to be better should he make a jump forward with his control.

Michael Marinakis is a 23-year-old unemployed fantasy addict. You can find him roaming the Cafe all day where he posts as GiantsFan14 and frets about the next stupid thing Brian Sabean does.
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