Saturday, August 6, 2011

Felipe and Ubaldo.

Last night, Felipe Paulino took the mound for the 12th time as a member of the Kansas City Royals, the 11th time as a starting pitcher. After allowing back-to-back triples to start the game, Paulino bore down; he worked into the seventh, and aside from a solo homer in the fifth inning, kept the Tigers off the board the rest of the way. For the fifth time in his last seven starts, he struck out at least seven batters. For his seventh start in a row, he walked no more than two batters. He pitched at least six innings for the seventh time in eight games.

And after watching Paulino once again make a quality start, and once again show glimpses of domination, the strangest question entered my head:

Who would you rather have right now: Felipe Paulino or Ubaldo Jimenez?

On the surface, this question is insane, and you’d have to suspect the same of anyone who poses it. Ten weeks ago, Paulino was waived by the Colorado Rockies with a 5.93 career ERA. Last year, Jimenez went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA and finished 3rd in the Cy Young vote.

But this year, Jimenez is struggling a little – he allowed five runs in his Indians debut last night, raising his ERA in 2011 to 4.64. Since joining the Royals, Paulino has a 3.56 ERA.

Jimenez has pitched better than his ERA would suggest this year – in 128 innings, he has 125 strikeouts and walked just 49 batters unintentionally. He’s only allowed 11 homers, and that’s actually an uncharacteristically high number for him. (His career high is just 13, which is absolutely astonishing – he averaged 213 innings a year from 2008 to 2010 and pitched in Coors Field.) His xFIP this season is only 3.55.

Of course, Paulino has also pitched better than his ERA this year, as he has throughout his career. Since joining the Royals, he has 70 strikeouts and just 17 unintentional walks in 73 innings. He’s allowed just five home runs. While Jimenez has a history of being an extreme groundball pitcher, this year the two are indistinguishable: Jimenez has a 46.7% groundball percentage, Paulino is at 46.6%. Paulino’s xFIP this year – including 15 lousy innings with the Rockies – is 3.42. He hasn’t been lucky with the Royals – he simply hasn’t been extraordinarily unlucky like he was with the Astros. He’s also cut his walks and homers almost in half. The improvement in his home run rate is probably a little lucky, although it also has a lot to do with the ballpark. The improvement in his control looks like it’s for real.

Jimenez turns 28 in January. Paulino turns 28 in October.

Jimenez’s average fastball this year is 93.4 mph; one of the reasons to be concerned about him is that his velocity is down from years past, as his fastball averaged 96.1 mph in both 2010 and 2009. Paulino’s average fastball this year is 95.0 mph.

Jimenez’s slider averages 83.4, his curveball 76.7, his changeup 86.4. Paulino’s slider is 87.3, his curveball 78.2, his changeup 86.5. Both guys throw their curve about 8% of the time. Jimenez throws his fastball a little more and his changeup a lot more; Paulino relies much more heavily on his slider.

In addition to his effectiveness, one of the things that makes Jimenez so valuable is his durability – he has made at least 33 starts in each of the last three years, and has thrown 199, 218, and 222 innings. Paulino, of course, has no such record of durability. But break down his performance record more closely, and all the signs are there that, left to his own devices, he can be a durable starter.

Start with the fact that he’s thrown at least 104 pitches in seven straight starts, and threw at least 113 pitchers in the first four starts in that run, without any loss in effectiveness.

Then there’s the fact that he seems to be the rare pitcher who might actually be more effective as a starting pitcher than as a reliever. In his career he’s made 32 relief appearances and thrown only 39 innings in relief, but his ERA in that role is 9.15. (Throw out his first appearance with the Royals, when he stepped off a plane and retired 13 of 14 batters, and his relief ERA is 10.29.) In 45 career starts, his ERA is 4.76.

The reason Paulino pitches better in the rotation is twofold: 1) he tends to struggle early in his outings, and 2) he maintains his stuff deep into games. Consider that with the Royals this year, he has a 5.67 ERA in the first three innings of the game. From the fourth inning on, he’s allowed 8 runs in 40 innings – a 1.80 ERA.

While he hasn’t shown that extreme a pattern throughout his career, consider his career numbers when facing a batter for the first, second, and third times in a game:

First time through the lineup: .292/.357/.482
Second time through the lineup: .306/.359/.493
Third/fourth time through the lineup: .274/.371/.380

These numbers are a little misleading, in that a pitcher might not get to stick around long enough to face the lineup a third time if he isn’t pitching well – but even so, most pitchers do worse the third time through the lineup. (You don’t even want to know what Luke Hochevar’s splits are.) Paulino has not shown that tendency; if anything, he only get stronger.

Taking everything into consideration, the two pitchers are surprisingly even. The only area where Jimenez has a decided advantage is that he’s been doing it for four years instead of ten weeks.

That is, of course, an enormous advantage. But in Paulino’s corner is this: while Jimenez is only under contract through 2013, Paulino won’t be a free agent until after the 2015 season – four more years after this one. Jimenez is already signed to a ridiculously cheap contract – I believe the Indians owe him about $11 million between now and the end of the contract. Paulino is not signed; he will be eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter. Last winter, as a Super Two, he signed for $790,000. Even as well as he’s pitched this year, it’s unlikely he’ll make more than $1.5 million or so for 2012.

One thing that will keep his salary down is that, while Paulino has a fine ERA since joining the Royals, he’s only 1-4. (In Paulino’s 11 starts, the Royals have scored more than 3 runs just three times, and never more than 5.) He somehow lost four games in his short time with the Rockies, and last season he was 1-8 for the Astros. While win-loss records are almost meaningless, they probably have some impact in arbitration – and Paulino is 2-17 over the last two years. In 2009, he was 3-11. For his career, he’s 7-29. Right now, Paulino is tied with a pitcher named Ken Reynolds for the worst career winning percentage in major-league history for a pitcher with 35 or more decisions. I doubt that’s going to hold up, but in the meantime, that’s a hell of a stat to drop at an arbitration hearing.

If Paulino continues to pitch well in 2012, I could see him in line for a $5 million award in 2013 and escalating salaries after that. But better a pitcher with an escalating salary than a pitcher who’s a free agent.

So I ask you: after everything I’ve presented, if you’re the Royals, would you trade Felipe Paulino for Ubaldo Jimenez straight up? Do you trade a pitcher you picked up on waivers ten weeks ago, but who has pitched like a #2 starter since, for an established #2 starter who has shown flashes of being an ace? You gain security, predictability, and upside. But you also gain the concerns about Jimenez’s diminished velocity and the mystery of why the Rockies were so eager to trade him. And you lose club control of your pitcher in 2014 and 2015.

Who do you want: Felipe Paulino or Ubaldo Jimenez? This isn’t a loaded question. I honestly don’t know myself. But the mere fact that I can propose this question and not get completely laughed out of the room – well, my room, for all I know you’re ROTFLMAO right now – says something, doesn’t it?

The Cleveland Indians gave up their two best pitching prospects, a pair of Top-15 picks in Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, along with two lesser prospects, for the rights to Jimenez. And (at least in my opinion) they got the better end of the deal.

The Royals, meanwhile, picked up Felipe Paulino for the price of a waiver claim.

Eventually I’ll stop pimping Paulino. Eventually he’ll turn back into a pumpkin (although I don’t think he will), or I’ll get tired of singing his praises (doubtful), or people will wake up and recognize what the Royals have (bingo!)

But until that last thing happens, I’ll continue to say it: Felipe Paulino is not your typical free-talent find. The Royals, a team with a promising core of offense and a deep bullpen but utterly bereft of starting pitching, picked up a guy on waivers at the end of May, and at the beginning of August I’m undecided whether I’d trade that guy for Ubaldo Jimenez. He’s not simply one of the better moves of the Dayton Moore era.  The decision to sign Paulino might go down as one of the best moves in the history of the franchise.

Update: As a commenter astutely pointed out, Paulino is a free agent after 2014, not 2015; my apologies for the error. Given that Paulino is under club control for only one more season than Jimenez, the decision swings more clearly towards Jimenez. My general point stands, though.


Eric said...

I think the answer is Ubaldo right now. The dominating first half he had last year is too much to ignore, and Felipe has never shown anything like it. In two years, it might be Felipe that I would rather have had, but I have to take the risk to get the Ubaldo from last year.

Chris said...

Paulino is only under control through 2014, not 2015.

Scott L said...

Coors Field has been home of the humidor for over 8 years now. The point about Ubaldo's lack of home runs given up at Coors isn't valid.

Michael said...

IF Felipe keeps this up for a couple years, then I definitely say I'd rather have Felipe, considering what we had to give up for him compared to what Cleveland gave up for Ubaldo. But, you have to consider that this is the best stretch of Paulino's career. Even Kyle Davies has had stretches where he looked pretty good. Doesn't mean he's even comparable to Ubaldo, although I agree that Paulino's chances of keeping this up are a lot better than Davies' chances ever were!

Jason said...

Watch out, Rany. Someone might call you a Dayton apologist again.

Good read as always.

Jim M said...

Hi Rany,

here is the latest showing the Royals are still the laughingstock. hopefully we can surprise everybody soon. (click on the comic to have it show properly).

pjbronco said...

I am a lifelong Royals fan--my first sports love. I also grew up mostly in Colorado and am lucky enough to have moved back about two years ago, so I see mostly Rockies coverage out here. My question for you Rany is simple: Is this post an endorsement of Paulino or an indictment of Jimenez? Based on the Jimenez I've seen since the All-Star break last year, you pretty much have to take Paulino. And at their respective prices, it seems a no-brainer.

kcghost said...

It would be nice if Paulino became a serviceable pithcer, butnot many waiver wire claims do that though.

More importantly wasn't it nice to watch a Royals 2B actually hit the ball hard this last week-end??

Fast Eddie said...

Career home runs as a Royal:

Giavotella = 1
Getz = 0

How bad are the Houston Astros? I compared their current 25 man roster to the Royals, asking the question "if you combined the 2 rosters, how many Astros would be on it?" Probably 4-5 pitchers, but only Barmes (as a reserve infielder) among position players, unless you wanted Carlos Lee as a backup/pinch hitter.

Michael said...

Hey Ghost, don't know if you've been paying attention or not, but Paulino has been more than a serviceable pitcher. He's been pretty darn good!

Nate said...

The obvious answer is I'd take both. They're both exactly the kind of players the Royals need to be pursuing - low risk, high reward, cost controlled. A rotation of Jimenez, Paulino, Duffy, Francis, Hochevar looks pretty good to me.

Darrel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Darrel said...

I had to look up Reynolds on Baseball Reference. At one time he was traded for Mike Ferraro, yes, that Mike Ferraro who managed the Royals when Howser was diagnosed with a brain tumor after the 86 all-star break.

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ashotinthedark said...

Hmmm...this seems like the kind of article some pseudo-anonymous blogger shoves in your face 2 years from now even though it is an entirely fair question to ask right now. Not to mention it's an enjoyable exercise.

I wonder if the Tiger's would have been better off get Paulino over Fister (almost certainly yes) and I wonder what it would have taken to make that happen.

Michael said...

The Kyle Davies Expirement is over!!! Royals are releasing him today! THANK YOU LORD JESUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

George said...

Kyle Davies...HE GONE!

Kenneth said...

In pitching Consistency is king. I think the fact that Jiminez has done it better for longer, I would rather have a known proven commodity for two years than a chance for three.

I think Colorado letting him go has to do with their non contention this year and his escalating salary. They locked up a lot of money in their hitters, so it's only fitting they looked to get four pitchers back in return. I would also argue your point that Colorado won the trade. I think Cleveland won the trade. Getting a pitcher of that quality is expensive to buy as a free agent and rare to develop in your farm system.

Did the Royals do better in terms of cost/benefit ? I think that is a fair question and the Royals win that argument. They get to keep lottery tickets Montgomery & Ordorizzi. In addition they get a solid pitcher in their rotation every day. A pitcher who is a solid #3 and could be a legitimate #2 for any team next year. Cost/benefit advantage definitely goes to the Royals. How did everyone else in the majors miss out on this guy ?

On the flip side are you too waiting until Aug 15th to do a will he or won't he sign ? Not sure why Boras pushes all his signings until the last minute but it would not bother me one bit if the Royals offered him the same money as Eric Hosmer, Bubba turns it down, and the Royals don't sign him. I think the demands of the top 10 picks in any sport are too high and need to be set more realistically. I see the costs of these high draft picks as one of the many problems of money mismangement by the professional leagues helping to lead to labor unrest. Maybe that is one steep slippery slope, but what happens to you financially when you lock up lot of money in a player who doesn't make it ? Can you afford to do that year after year if you are the Royals and stay profitable? Or is that what gets your major league payroll cut ?

K.C.Tigerfan said...

I hope that Kyle Davis gets signed by an AL Central team so that the Royals get to tee off on him regularly as a reward for having to suffer through his starts the last few years. It's only right.

Or, I hope he goes to the Yankees or Red Sox as punishment for signing all of our young stars.

George said...

I choose, Paulino, actually. I think Ubaldo will break down during his contract.