Jimenez in midst of best season ever?
Ubaldo Jimenez is pitching better than anyone you've ever seen.
Surely that's an exaggeration, right? No, not really.
The Colorado Rockies' ace leads the majors with an ERA of 1.16, and that's despite having pitched 34.0 of his 93.1 innings at a mile above sea level (and, lest we forget, Coors Field is still the best hitters park in baseball). This season, Jimenez has also tossed the first no-hitter in franchise history, logged a quality start in every outing, and surrendered nary a single unearned run. In a related matter, he's also on pace to go 31-3.
It is, of course, the ERA that sparkles. If Jimenez's ERA of 1.16 holds up, then it'll be lowest qualifying mark since Bob Gibson's 1.12 in 1968. Of course, Gibson toiled in a much different run-scoring environment. Back in 1968, the NL teams averaged a paltry 3.43 runs per game. This season, we've heard a lot about the rise of pitching, and performances like Jimenez's and those 2.9 perfect games have a little something to do with that. However, NL offenses are scoring 4.43 runs per game, and despite what you hear that's not far out of step with 2009 levels (4.49 runs per game).
So Jimenez is authoring these numbers in what historically is still a fairly offensive-inclined season. And that important bit of context is why Jimenez is, as mentioned, pitching better than anyone you've ever seen.
A statistic called ERA+, which takes ERA and adjusts it for league and home-park conditions, provides the necessary context. ERA+ is scaled to 100, which represents the league average on a park-adjusted basis. Unlike traditional ERA, the higher the ERA+ figure the better the performance. An ERA+ of 120, for instance, signifies a park-adjusted ERA that's 20 percent better than the league average. Conversely, an ERA+ of 85 signifies a park-adjusted ERA that's 15 percent worse than the league mean. Here's a list of the top 10 single-season ERA+ figures in history:
1. Tim Keefe, 1880 (295)
2. Pedro Martinez, 2000 (291)
3. Dutch Leonard, 1914 (279)
4. Greg Maddux, 1994 (271)
5. Greg Maddux, 1995 (262)
6. Walter Johnson, 1913 (259)
7. Bob Gibson, 1968 (258)
8. Mordecai Brown, 1906 (253)
9. Walter Johnson, 1912; Pedro Martinez, 1999 (243)
You don't see Jimenez's name on this list because he's yet to log a qualifying number of innings in 2010. That will change soon enough. His current ERA+? It's 388. Once more for emphasis: It's 388! Yes, his park-adjusted ERA is 288 percent better than the league average. It would also be, by an absurdly wide margin, the best single-season ERA+ of all-time. This really shouldn't be all that surprising. Jimenez's ERA is hovering around the 1.00 mark, and he's putting up those numbers in a hitter's park in a hitter's era. That his ERA looks like something plucked from stingiest depths of the deadball era simply astounds.
The question, though, is this: Will it last? Almost certainly not. Jimenez's peripheral statistics, while strong, don't justify that ERA (really, how could they?). Jimenez's stuff is legitimately devastating, but his batting average on balls in play, success at stranding runners, and home run-per-fly ball rate are probably not sustainable. Then again, Jimenez can regress in the coming months and still wind up making ERA+ history. That's how otherworldly he's been thus far. And he's going to continue being a frontline pitcher for years to come.
So it goes without saying that Jimenez isn't getting the attention he deserves. Part of that is fact that he plays in Colorado for a fourth-place team, and part of that is the fact that Stephen Strasburg and Roy Halladay are getting most of the pitching press these days. But Jimenez has been more valuable than any pitcher — and almost any player — in baseball this season. And, as his unprecedented ERA+ proves, he's working on one of the great pitching campaigns in the history of the game. In that important regard, Jimenez is pitching better than anyone you've ever seen.
And you have seen him pitch, right?