Now that the summer trading frenzy has gotten underway, Yankees’ fans will start beating the drum for a blockbuster of their own. The only problem is there aren’t many obvious candidates available on the market. Otherwise, history tells us that Brian Cashman would probably have pulled the trigger already.
The names most commonly tied to the Yankees in trade rumors are the Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda and the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. According to Buster Olney, the Yankees currently prefer the much older Kuroda because of his greater consistency. On the surface, that statement seems absurd when you consider the career bWAR of the Dodgers’ right hander is just barely higher than the number compiled by Jimenez in 2010 alone. Sure, Kuroda has been more consistent, but Jimenez has been better.
Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Hiroki Kuroda, 2008 to 2011
|Ubaldo Jimenez||Hiroki Kuroda|
Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
In sports, consistency is often viewed both pejoratively and euphemistically. To some, the term is used to cover up for a lack of elite production (akin to the “professional hitter” moniker), while others employ it in a demeaning manner (kind of like saying a woman has a nice personality). However, consistency has very direct meaning, and players who exhibit it have real value…provided the level of that consistent production is accurately tied to their cost.
In the case of Jimenez versus Kuroda, what makes the latter’s consistency attractive is the much smaller price tag associated with his acquisition. Whereas the Rockies are asking for a package including most of the Yankees’ top prospects, Kuroda is rumored to be available for a second tier farmhand. Also worth noting is Kuroda is a type-B free agent, so the Yankees could recover that prospect if the right hander declines an offer of arbitration and leaves as a free agent. All things being equal, it would make much more sense to acquire Jimenez, whose floor is probably higher than Kuroda’s ceiling, but the price to pay (not to mention the opportunity cost) is much higher.
The Yankees have never been shy about taking risks, especially when trading prospects for established major leaguers. The problem with Jimenez, however, is there are several red flags that contribute additional uncertainty. In his breakout 2010 season, Jimenez’ fastball, which rated 30 runs above the mean, averaged 96.1mph. This year, however, his velocity has dropped all the way to 93.4mph, resulting in a precipitous decline in the pitch’s effectiveness (currently 0.7 runs above average). In addition, Jimenez’ percentage of strikes recorded by swings and misses has dropped to 7.7%, down from well over 9.0% for most of his career (according to www.joelefkowitz.com, whiffs on the fastball have also declined from 7.4% in 2010 to 4.0% this season).
Ubaldo Jimenez’ Fastball Data, 2006 to 2011
*Applies to all pitches.
Before the Yankees trade their best prospects, including players they were uncomfortable dealing for Cliff Lee, they need to determine why Jimenez’ velocity has dropped considerably. Although some have suggested Jimenez has regained his lost velocity as the season has progressed, according to brooksbaseball.net, the right hander’s fastball averaged just over 93mph in his most recent outing on Sunday. In fact, on only two occasions did he reach his average speed from last year.
Kuroda and Jimenez would both make the Yankees a better team, but at what cost to the future? Undoubtedly, the team’s scouts are working overtime to determine which of the two provides the best value relative to the current asking price. Will the Yankees opt for the most stable, consistent Kuroda, or roll the dice on Jimenez’ potential to be an ace? At the beginning of the year, Brian Cashman preached patience, but with the deadline approaching, one wonders if his own might be running out? The answer to that question should come between now and Sunday evening.