Toronto's big sluggers want to face Chris Tillman in Tuesday's wild card game. In 24 career starts, Tillman owns a 5.44 ERA against the Jays, and just about every starter matches up well against him. Toronto's current roster combines for a .299 batting average against Baltimore's ace, and twenty home runs is absolutely insane. The Blue Jays do not need a new game plan if Tillman takes the mound, they know exactly what they are doing.
Despite horrible numbers on the season, Ubaldo Jimenez represents a much scarier matchup, and could be the starter of choice as a result. For starters, Jimenez is a different pitcher of late, as he is on a roll with a 2.31 ERA in September. Although he underperformed this season, recent mechanical changes transformed him into a much different starter.
The Blue Jays Can't Hit Ubaldo Jimenez
His numbers against the Toronto's hitters are out of this world. In 300 at bats, the current roster is hitting just .220 against him, with just 9 home runs. Jose Bautista is 3 for 38, Edwin Encarnacion is 9 for 41, Josh Donaldson is 5 for 28, Russell Martin is 12 for 48, and Troy Tulowitzki is 1 for 11. All in all, in 166 career at bats against Ubaldo, these five have just TEN extra base hits.
If one thing is clear, the Blue Jays need to create a new game plan against Jimenez. What are other players doing that they aren't? Let's find out.
Ubaldo Jimenez Destroys Right-Handed Pull Hitters
It's not just Toronto's hitters that have this problem. Brian Dozier, Salvador Perez, Alexei Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez, Ian Kinsler, Jose Altuve, and Mark Reynolds all see their power disappear when they face Jimenez. When a right-handed pull hitter comes to the plate, Ubaldo is practically jumping out of his cleats in excitement.
Let's start off with the basics: Jimenez is a much tougher matchup for right-handed hitters. He's inducing an extreme amount of ground balls against righties, and when they do get the ball in the air, it is leaving the park at a much lower rate.
A Closer Look:
CAN IT BE ANYMORE CLEAR?!?!
Jimenez is getting righty after righty to roll over on his sinker, and there happens to be two plus defensive players on that side of the field in Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy. It's extremely difficult for a righty to get the ball up in the air to the pull side, and only four home runs left the yard in two years.
The heart of the Blue Jays lineup is full of dead-pull hitters. Each of Encarnacion, Bautista, Donaldson, and Tulowitzki rank in the top 50 in terms of pull % over the last two years (minimum 700 PA). This is Jimenez's ideal matchup, and these sluggers are running right into his trap.
Taking A Look At The June 12th Game
There's a rare exception to Jimenez owning the Blue Jays, and that came on June 12th of this season. Toronto absolutely crushed Ubaldo, touching him up for six hits while he only recorded one out. Let's take a look at what happened:
|Carrera||Opposite Field Double|
|Donaldson||Opposite Field Double|
|Encarnacion||Single to Center|
|Martin||Single to Center|
|Pillar||Double to Center|
|Travis||Opposite Field Double|
Six hits in seven plate appearances, and not one hit to the pull side. Clearly the opposite field approach worked, but the strategy was not duplicated on September 29th.
Taking A Look At The September 29th Game
Jimenez went 6.2 innings, surrendering just one hit. There were seven right-handed hitters in the lineup, who combined to go 0 for 16 with 3 BBs and 5 Ks. The lone hit came from the left-handed Ezequiel Carrera, who singled to the opposite field.
Of the 13 balls put in play from a righty, 8 were groundouts to the third baseman, shortstop, or pitcher. Just three balls left the infield from a right-handed hitter, and the Blue Jays never got a ball in the air to the pull side. The strategy clearly changed from June 12th, and Ubaldo left with an incredible start.
The Big Picture
Clearly, Toronto's current approach against Jimenez is not working. With a lineup full of right-handed hitters, the Blue Jays must avoid falling into his trap once again. It's very difficult for a right-handed hitter to get the ball in the air against Jimenez, and the ball rarely leaves the yard to that side.
It is much easier for a left-handed hitter to pull the ball out of the park, so Michael Saunders' regular approach should work wonders. In fact, Saunders loves to hit off Ubaldo, as the lefty boasts nine hits and four home runs in just 21 career at bats. Saunders can keep doing what he is doing, but the right-handed hitters in this lineup must adapt.
Jimenez rarely throws a changeup against right-handers, and his curveball does not generate many whiffs. His splitter is his strikeout pitch, and the Jays will want to try and lay off these offerings below the zone. Look out for this with two strikes, as the pitch is nearly un-hittable.
The pitch to sit on is his sinker, as this is his primary offering, and hitters boast some success against it. If the Blue Jays right-handed hitters continue to try to pull his sinker, expect a ton of ground ball outs to two reliable fielders in Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy. If Toronto's hitters focus on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field, suddenly the offence will come alive.
If the Orioles do turn to Jimenez instead of Chris Tillman, let's hope they are adequately prepared.