While Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez certainly have their similarities, they each have different risks and benefits associated with them. They have often been connected throughout the offseason, as they have similar price tags and each is connected to draft pick compensation. They have also been linked this offseason because each is coming off an impressive season following a very bad season, and overall inconsistencies in their careers. However, the two pitchers are not incredibly similar, as one profiles more as a durable innings eater and the other carries more upside.
The 31-year-old Ervin Santana provides many more innings than Ubaldo Jimenez, as he has eclipsed the 200-inning plateau three times in the past four seasons. Santana, however, has often outperformed his peripherals, especially this past season. In 2013, Santana posted his career-best 3.24 ERA, but his FIP was 3.93, which suggests some regression in 2014. Even looking back at the past 5 seasons, Santana has had a FIP under 4.00 just once. It may seem as if he has the ability to outperform his peripherals consistently, but during that same span his ERA surpassed 5.00 during two seasons most recently in 2012. As I mentioned above, Santana’s best quality is his ability to go deep into starts consistently throughout the season. Santana is also a tremendous strike-thrower, as he walked just 2.18 batters per 9 innings, which is an improvement upon his still impressive 2.81 BB/9 for his career. Santana is also an effective groundball generator, as his groundball rate has been above 43% for the past three seasons. The real knock on Santana has been his inconsistencies throughout his career, with 3 seasons of an ERA above 5.00 and just 4 seasons of an ERA under 3.00 during his 9-year career. While Santana’s ERA was the best of his career, in 2013, his other metrics were not much better than his career norms, which suggests he hasn’t necessarily figured anything out.
The 30-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez, unlike Santana, has a reputation for struggling to go deep into games. He has not thrown 200 innings in a season since 2010 and has only done it twice in his 8-year career. His struggles to last deep into games are likely related to his high K/9 and very high BB/9. Both strikeouts and walks drive a pitcher’s pitch count up and he has never had a BB/9 lower than 3.50. As I stated above, Jimenez carries more upside with him, as his career K/9 is a full strikeout per 9 higher than Santana, but Jimenez’s peripherals are also better than his ERA. Jimenez has a career 3.78 FIP, compared to his 3.92 ERA. During his time with the Rockies, Jimenez was an outstanding groundball pitcher, but since moving to the Indians, his GB% has slipped to 38.4% in 2012 and 43.9% in 2013. Despite pitching in hitter-friendly Coors Field for the majority of his career, Jimenez’s Hr/9 has been better than Santana’s in every season of his career. Compared to Santana, who has had a FIP under 4.00 just once in the past five seasons, Jimenez has had a FIP under 4.00 four of the last five seasons. Jimenez’s only truly bad season, in terms of FIP, was 2012 when his FIP ballooned to 5.06 and his ERA climbed to 5.40. While being able to go deep into starts is pivotal in being a reliable and consistent starter, Jimenez certainly carries the highest upside and actually most consistent performance between the two starters. Jimenez has also proven that he can pitch in a high run scoring environment, such as Coors Field. Santana, however, has pitched the majority of his career in a pitcher friendly park at Angels Stadium of Anaheim for every season except one.
Looking into the numbers, it is clear that Ervin Santana is the best bet of the two starters to reach 200 innings. It is also evident that Ubaldo Jimenez has the greatest potential to provide above average production inning per inning. Neither starter is an ace or likely to become one and each comes with legitimate questions. However, in terms of which starter is better, it really depends on what a team is looking for. If they want a starter that can provide 200+ innings season after season, then Santana is by far the better option. If the team is seeking a starter that can consistently provide an ERA around or below 3.50, then Jimenez is the better option. Since each starter has a similar price tag, it is really a question of which type of starter the team is looking for. Personally, I prefer Jimenez to Santana because he has provided more consistent numbers across the board and has only had one truly bad season.