There’s been a lot of discussion on the BSL board about what the Orioles should do with their glut of #3-#5 pitchers given that Ubaldo Jimenez is set to come off the DL shortly. Complicating matters, as Chris mentions in this thread, is that both Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris both threw good games against one of the best teams in baseball. The idea of putting the O’s new $50 million pitcher in the bullpen is likely a far-fetched one for a variety of off-the-field reasons. However, would Ubaldo be successful if the O’s DID decide to move him out there?
On the board Joe posed that vary question:
“Do we trust Ubaldo with his walk history in the pen?”
It’s a fair question, and one that’s pretty complex. I won’t dig into too many of the details, but I’ll try to assess the tip of this very unlikely iceberg.
Ubaldo would likely benefit greatly from transitioning to being a three-pitch pitcher out of the bullpen. His slider and curveball have been crushed this season (both with BAA over .345). On the flip side his fastball, sinker, and splitter have done much better (BAA of .233, .229, .186 respectively). The fastball and sinker are pitches that he’s throwing for strikes around 30% of the time, and the splitter has a whiff rate of 13.64%. This would become his out pitch essentially.
Other relievers have succeeded with this repertoire, including one of the best closers in baseball: Koji Uehara. Koji throws his fourseamer about 56% of the time, and his splitter 38% of the time. He’ll mix in other pitches like a cutter or a curve, but essentially those are his two go-to pitches. Ubaldo would take the same approach throwing primarily fourseam fastballs and sinker to get ahead, with the splitter being the put-away pitch.
He’s done a good job keeping the splitter down so far this season, and you’d expect that to continue in the bullpen. Here’s a chart of his splitter locations:
On top of that, we’d be seeing a lot more groundballs out of Jimenez than he has when starting. That’s because his sinker (50%) and splitter (57%) generate a ton of ground balls. If he used those two pitches far more often, he’d be generating groundballs that would surely be scooped up by the O’s excellent infield defense.
Moving Ubaldo to the bullpen isn’t a likely outcome, but it’s one that could be successful. Granted, that requires he change his approach a bit, but it’s something to consider given the tumultuous season he’s had in 2014.