Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Ervin Santana: Battle of the Not-Tanakas

Hey anyone have a $75 million coin? - Photo compilation by Minor Leaguer. Individual photo credits: Ubaldo Jimenez: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports | Rogers Centre: Brad White | Ervin Santana: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Blue Jays have been linked to Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, which pitcher would be a better choice for the club?

This offseason, for a number of reasons, feels like an anxious one. The 2013 Blue Jays were monumentally disappointing, but too much was invested in the team to blow it all up and start again. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that this team will rebound in a significant way in 2014. However, there is also reason to believe that real upgrades need to be made for this team to be challenge for a playoff spot.

So far said upgrades have been slow in the coming. Toronto replaced the hopeless J.P. Arencibia with Dioner Navarro, who is likely more competent but far from a star. There has been little to know movement on finding a starting second baseman, something which this team desperately needs. Even though catcher and second base were complete and utter black holes coming out of the 2013 season, the most publicized area of need has been the starting rotation. The Blue Jays have been involved in many trade rumours surrounding starting pitching in the offseason, but prices are steep and nothing has come to fruition. In recent days rumours are have been swirling that the Jays might try their luck in the free agent market with either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez.

Either of these pitchers would be an upgrade in the Blue Jays rotation, but which one would be a better buy? Although it's hard to know the answer without knowing the price tag attached, it appears that Ervin Santana is likely to be more costly. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Ervin Santana as their number six free agent and Jimenez as their number 11. They projected Santana for a five-year $75 million dollar deal and Jimenez for a four-year $52 million dollar deal, which is a fairly significant gap. Additionally, there was chatter earlier in the offseason that Santana was looking for a nine-figure deal, which I would guess he is unlikely to get. Stranger things have happened though, and the starting pitching market remains murky to say the least. For the sake of this comparison the only important thing to remember is that those who are in the know see Santana getting a bigger contract than Jimenez, the gap between them is unclear.

In order to compare the two pitchers the first thing to do is take a look at the basics. Here's how the two look in terms of some of the more rudimentary information:

Name

Ervin Santana

Ubaldo Jimenez

Age

31

29 (turns 30 later this month)

Height

6-2

6-5

Weight

185

210

Fastball Velocity (2013)

92.4

91.7

Career Starts

265

211

Career Innings Pitched

1686.2

1275.2

Career WAR

19.6

23.6

Career RA9 WAR

22.1

21.3

Draft Pick Compensation

Yes

Yes

These numbers aren't all that dissimilar. In order to get a better look I decided to compare the two during three time periods: the last five years, the last three years, and last year, in order to try and determine which pitcher would be a better choice for the Blue Jays.

The Last Five Years

Pitcher

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

GB%

ERA

FIP

WAR

RA9-WAR

Santana

151

980

6.87

2.79

1.30

41.4%

4.03

4.49

7.5

12.3

Jimenez

161

987.1

8.47

3.92

0.74

46.3%

3.88

3.68

18.7

16.6

This is not much of a comparison as Jimenez bests Ervin Santana handily in virtually every single category. That would seem to end the debate right there, but this particular comparison is in an unfair one because it includes a lot of work by Jimenez that is no longer reflective of his abilities going forward. In 2009 and 2010 Jimenez was a dominant fireballer with the Rockies and he no longer has the velocity to be that pitcher anymore. In fact, he has lost 4.4 mph off his fastball on average since his career year in 2010. The last three years are more reflective of what these two pitchers are capable of.

The Last Three Years

Pitcher

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

GB%

ERA

FIP

WAR

RA9-WAR

Santana

95

617.2

6.88

2.66

1.33

44.3

3.85

4.45

4.6

8.5

Jimenez

95

547.2

8.50

4.16

0.95

43.1

4.45

4.04

6.6

3.1

This comparison gets interesting because your preference here depends on your means for valuing pitchers. Santana clearly prevented runs better, but he was seriously outperforming his peripherals. On the other hand Jimenez had a bloated ERA but the underlying numbers suggest he was the superior pitcher.

Although bigger samples are almost always better than small ones, more recent information is better than old information, all things being equal. For that reason let's take a look at the 2013 seasons that both pitchers enjoyed.

The 2013 Season

Pitcher

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

GB%

ERA

FIP

WAR

RA9-WAR

Santana

32

211

6.87

2.16

1.11

46.2%

3.24

3.90

3.0

4.5

Jimenez

32

182.2

9.56

3.94

0.79

43.9%

3.30

3.43

3.2

3.2

Both pitchers were excellent in their contract years. Jimenez adjusted to his diminishing velocity by throwing far more sliders and splitters than before, while Santana increased his ground ball rate perhaps due to the addition of a two-seam fastball. If his agent is to believed there might even be another new pitch on the way.

Looking at these numbers in the three charts above the choice between these guys isn't clear cut. Ervin Santana has demonstrated more control than his counterpart which is part of the reason he is able to log so many more innings in the same number of starts. Jimenez's ability to miss bats continues to astound even as his velocity has fallen precipitously. According to fielding independent metrics he has consistently been the better pitcher but his velocity loss and his inability to find the strike zone at times are legitimate causes for concern.

The choice between Jimenez and Santana largely comes down personal preference. The Blue Jays may not be the team making that choice, but there are war rooms where this comparison will be discussed. If you are looking for reliability Santana is the choice. If you are willing to roll the dice on a guy who will give you fewer innings but probably a better pitcher then Jimenez is your guy. The reason Santana's price tag will likely be higher is because people are willing to pay for a known quantity and durability is at a premium in this league. The 2013 Blue Jays perfectly demonstrated the kind of ugliness that rears its head when a team's rotation can't stay healthy.

That said, I think that Ubaldo Jimenez would be a better choice for the Blue Jays than Ervin Santana. Jimenez is a year younger and the Blue Jays might be able to get him on a shorter term than Santana. A great deal of Santana's efficacy has come from his ability to prevent runs better than his peripherals suggest he should, and that's a tough thing to bank on going forward. It's also noteworthy that Ervin Santana has always struggled when it comes to allowing home runs. This is especially troubling because he has yet to pitch in a park nearly as hitter-friendly as the Rogers Centre. After seeing R.A. Dickey's case of acute gopheritis last season, I don't think that's something fans want to witness again.

Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana are both good pitchers who would be upgrades in virtually any rotation. Most teams would be glad to have one or the other, especially the pitching starved Jays. Given the question marks the Blue Jays have in their rotation more of a "sure thing" like Ervin Santana might be appealing to the team but it's also possible they would see Jimenez as a better fit. If you were a gambling man, or woman, it would probably be unwise to stake much of a fortune on either Jimenez or Santana taking the mound for the Jays in 2014, but given the amount of rumours regarding the pair it's at least worth contemplating which pitcher would look better in blue.

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