One of the trickier elements of baseball analysis is figuring out the role of luck - or the absence thereof - in a player's output. When we look at Ubaldo Jimenez, and see that he has a 6.04 ERA in 2016, we can safely say that he's not this awful of a pitcher, and that he'll allow fewer runs as the season goes along. But how much will he improve? Has he remained the same from 2015, or gotten worse?
For Jimenez, the story always seems to revolve around walks. He limited them last year, dealing them out to 8.6 percent of opposing batters. This year, the free passes have come surging back to 11.4 percent. Yet his peripheral statistics, per Baseball-Reference, haven't budged: He's thrown about as many strikes in 2016 (61.4 percent of his pitches) as he did in 2015 (62.2 percent), he's retired hitters just as efficiently (3.80 pitches per plate appearance) as he did last year (3.86) and he's fallen behind 3-0 (5.2 percent of his batters faced) just as often as last season (5.1 percent). The fact that he's walked so many people shouldn't discourage anyone; his control should become easier to stomach.
Jimenez also hasn't fanned his adversaries like he did last year; his strikeout rate has nosedived from 21.2 percent to 18.6 percent. And as with the walks, this decline doesn't seem legitimate. Jimenez has netted called strikes for 20.1 percent of his pitches, in line with his 20.3 percent figure from last year. Likewise, his swinging strike rate has dipped only marginally, from 9 percent in 2015 to 8.4 percent in 2016. For the most part, Jimenez hasn't changed that much in terms of plate discipline. He still has a respectable strike rate, he still doesn't get into too many deep and unfavorable counts, he still catches hitters looking and he still gets the occasional whiff. In other words, his strikeout and walk rates should drift back to his 2015 levels as the spring turns into summer.
With batted balls, however, Jimenez's case gets trickier. He's given up a .367 BABIP to this point, one of the highest marks in baseball. Although he obviously won't hang around that area long-term, he might continue allowing hits. According to FanGraphs data, his rate of hard contact has inflated from 27.0 percent to 28.8 percent. Plus, with his higher ground ball rate, he'll be more prone to a high BABIP. Even if his strikeouts and walks return to normal, he might sacrifice too many hits to hold his own like he did last season.
So if bad fortune doesn't explain all the hits, what does? While Jimenez has never really distinguished himself with his command, he's really regressed in that regard this season. Against both lefties and righties, he hasn't placed the ball on the outer edge like he did in 2015. By throwing balls on the inner part of the plate, Jimenez has served up a ton of hittable pitches, and he's suffered for it. As noted above, Jimenez still throws strikes - his zone rate has actually increased a bit compared to last year, from 46.0 to 46.2 percent. Those strikes aren't quality strikes, though; he has decent control, but his command is subpar.
Two additional problems could throw a wrench in things. Compared to his first two years in Baltimore, Jimenez's velocity has decreased significantly; he's lost about a half mph on almost everything in his arsenal. And he's also tweaked his fastball mix, relying more on the four-seam fastball and straying away from the sinker that saved him in 2015. These factors have probably impacted his struggles to this point, and if he can't correct them, he might continue treading water.
After Jimenez melted down against the Angels on Sunday, Buck Showalter assured the fans that he would stay in the Orioles rotation for at least one more start. Certainly, Jimenez won't maintain an ERA above 6.00 for the rest of the year - once his strikeouts and walks make a comeback, he'll retire more batters than he has to this point. We should nevertheless temper our expectations, as the solid mid-rotation starter from last year may be gone for good. Bad luck can explain some of Jimenez's 2016 hardship, but a skill dropoff accounts for the rest.
Ryan Romano blogs about the Orioles for Camden Depot. Follow the blog on Twitter: @CamdenDepot. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.