The Toronto Blue Jays have been relatively quiet during this off-season, save a for few minor changes and transactions to the organization, but as expected the Jays are still looking for a starting pitcher to fill in their rotation for the upcoming season.
GM Alex Anthopoulos has been using the wait and see approach seeming to wait till the market settles before acquiring said starter, especially with highly coveted Japanese pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka still left to be claimed in the market. It seems as if the Jays may have narrowed down their search to two free agent candidates. As FoxSports.com senior baseball writer, Ken Rosenthal announced late Saturday night that the Blue Jays are a leading candidate to acquire either Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.
The Blue Jays, quiet for much of the offseason, still figure to acquire one and possibly two starting pitchers once the logjam caused by Tanaka starts to resolve.
The Jays are a leading candidate to sign either Santana or Jimenez; they have two protected first-round picks, Nos. 9 and 11, and would sacrifice only a second-rounder and the accompanying pool money for one of those free-agent right-handers.
Now the question begs to be answered, which of the two starting pitchers is a better fit to add to the current Blue Jays starting rotation that consists of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow.
Both Ervin Santana (31) and Ubaldo Jimenez (30) have a few similarities in both their pitching and their desires. They’re both products of the Dominican Republic, both began their major league careers at a young age of 22, are both right handed pitchers who predominantly rely their fastball and slider. And both coming off a resurgence contract season with their respective clubs.
Both rejected their teams’ qualifying offers, electing to become free agents and looking to cash in on a big contract this off-season, both reportedly looking to sign a deal worth $17-20 million per year. And neither pitcher has been a model of consistency over their major league careers.
Now for the comparisons:
Began his 8 year career showing continual linear improvement during his first four full seasons with the Colorado Rockies, Ubaldo was then moved at the trade deadline in 2011 by the Rockies—following a disappointing 1st half (one year removed from his phenomenal all-star season)—to the Cleveland Indians.
His regression then continued for the first season and a half with the Indians which saw him struggle mightily, but things would quickly turn around in his 2nd full season with the club Jimenez posted stats that were more reminiscent of those early seasons: 3.30 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 3.43 FIP, and a 3.2 WAR, along with a career high 9.56 K/9 (7th in MLB).
After a disappointing end to 8 year career with the Los Angeles Angels, Ervin Santana had been traded in the 2013 off-season to the Kansas City Royals where he got a fresh start and proceeded to have the best season in his career since 2008 (his lone all-star season).
Posting a career-best ERA of 3.24, 1.142 WHIP, 3.93 FIP, and a WAR of 3.0 in 32 games started—a drastic improvement from his prior season with the Angels.
Sanatana sandwiched 2012, with a less, but albeit still successful 2011 season where he posted a 3.38 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 4.00 FIP, and a 2.6 WAR. A small sample, but you can realize where his inconsistency comes from.
In the following ERA & WHIP comparison charts, we see that both pitchers have inconsistent ERAs over their careers, fluctuating from as low as 2.88 to as high as 5.76. The graph however, does suggest Jimenez has a much more consistent past when it comes to ERA with years 2011 and 2012 being the outliers.
As for WHIP, we see a much more tame graph between the two pitchers, with Ervin Santana having a lower WHIP than Jimenez over the past 3 seasons, with one huge important note. That is, Ervin Santana has been able to enjoy a significantly lower BABIP (.272, .241, .267) than the average .300, over each of the last 3 seasons, compared to Jimenez, who has had to deal with a BABIP slighty above .300 over the same time span.
The following K/BB ratio graph shows that despite Ubaldo Jimenez being the more dominant strikeout pitcher (career 8.3 K/9 to Santana’s 7.1), with that territory he holds, he also possesses a much higher walk ratio (career 4.0 bb/9) than Santana (career 2.8). All this results in Ervin Santana being the more consistent pitcher in controlling his pitches over Jimenez, who has been under the league average most of his career.
Pitcher Friendly to Hitter Friendly
One factor to consider for both pitchers is that they are coming from pitcher friendly ballparks, ie. the Park Factor (2013):
Progressive Field (CLE): 22nd in runs (0.933), 12th in home runs (1.078), 22nd in hits (0.976)
Kauffman Stadium (KC): 22nd in home runs (0.880)
To one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in Rogers Centre (TOR): 4th in runs (1.118), 3rd in home runs (1.298), 9th in hits (1.026)
Also to consider, Coors Field (COL)—where Jimenez spent the first 5 1/2 years of his career—is notoriously known as a major hitter-friendly ballpark, which taken into consideration makes Jimenez’s early numbers even more incredible.
Take into account that Ervin Santana consistently surrenders home runs–having a HR/9 around or above 1.0 in each of his 9 seasons, with a career HR/9 of 1.2–this spells trouble pitching at Rogers Centre, which is one of the most home run friendly ball parks in the league (214 home runs given up in 2013, ranks 2nd to Camden Yards). Compared to Ubaldo, who has a career HR/9 of 0.87, and being over 1.0 just 3 times in his career.
There are some that judge a pitcher based on the velocity of their pitches to dictate whether or not their arm is beginning to show wear and tear, and how one might cope with that velocity loss in the future. Certainly pitch velocity is just a minor factor in projecting a pitcher’s future performance, as with many elite power pitchers that lose their velocity, they are able to adjust and remain successful in the majors.
As with age, Ubaldo Jimenez’s fastball velocity has continued to decline at a linear basis from his rookie season (96.7 MPH) to his latest season (92.1 MPH).
As for Santana, his fastball velocity has remained more or less constant throughout his career, averaging 92.8 MPH over 7 years, with one outlier (94.8 MPH in 2008).
And finally, we’ll look at the factors that only a pitcher can control, combining the above factors into one general statistic, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). Combining home runs, walks, and strikeouts, while eliminating the factors that pitcher’s cannot control (defense / balls in play), we see that save for two seasons (2006, 2008), Ubaldo Jimenez has undoubtedly been the better of two. Meaning the rate at which Jimenez issues walks are less harmful than those home runs given up by Ervin Santana, when compairing the two weaknesses of both pitchers. Another way to look at it, the strikeouts and home run deficiency of Jimenez overcome the low walk rate of Santana.
To conclude, if the Jays were to sign one of Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, history suggests that with Ubaldo there is a chance he can regain his early form and thus results in a higher ceiling. With Ervin Santana, the history suggests a higher rate of inconsistency than Jimenez. If both pitcher’s are commanding similar contracts, the Blue Jays would be taking a better shot by signing the younger and higher ceiling, Ubaldo Jimenez.
Leave a comment in the section below whether you would want the Blue Jays to sign Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.