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Split Squad: Jimenez or Johnson? A Fool's Dilemma

Conan Hines

Conan Hines writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Justin Green

Justin Green writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

If you are in position to retain control over either Ubaldo Jimenez or Josh Johnson, then we would say you’re in pretty good shape. Let’s say you have both but can only keep one. Or, maybe you’re looking to trade for one? Perhaps you’re starting a new keeper league next year and you want to snag a young, high-upside hurler. In any scenario, you could be faced with a very difficult decision. Yovani Gallardo hasn’t quite reached that consistency desired from a young ace. Clayton Kershaw and Tommy Hanson are moving along but also have had some growing pains. You’re now stuck between two amazing arms – so who do you value more going forward?

I Ain’t Joshin’, Johnson’s the Choice (by Conan Hines)

I love Ubaldo. He’s a perfect fit for Coors. He gets a ton of groundballs and can rack up the Ks when he needs to. He doesn’t rely on the strikeout and has learned how to pitch. At 14-1, the Tasmanian Devil should easily glide across 20 wins and remain a frontrunner for the Cy Young award. And as much as I love him, going forward, I’m taking Josh Johnson any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

At the time of publication, Ubaldo and Josh shared the same ERA – 1.83. They do not, however, share the same FIP (Jimenez - 3.07; Johnson - 2.47). The peripheral edge doesn’t stop there. Johnson carries a higher BABIPA (.270 v. .255), a lower strand rate (81.9% v. 86.2%), more Ks per nine and less walks (8.92 v. 8.12; 2.25 v. 3.19). Both pitchers are performing a bit better than their numbers would dictate, but not by much, and Ubaldo a little more so.

JJ is even giving up home runs at a shrewder rate than the sinkerballer. To be fair, those numbers don’t carry huge discrepancies, but they all tilt in Johnson’s favor. If we delve further, you’ll see batters swing outside the zone against Johnson’s pitches more than they do for Jimenez. The Marlin is getting hitters to swing at a staggering 32% of balls outside the zone (Jimenez - 27%). And, equally impressive, hitters are making contact in the zone slightly over 80% of the time against Josh, while it’s about 90% against Ubaldo.

OK, so all these numbers are great and all, but who’s better going forward? Well the young’ens were born 9 days apart, so their development should remain on the same path. Perhaps the stadiums play into it a bit, but that attaches itself to fantasy value, and therefore playing home games at Coors counts. All in all, Johnson gets a first pitch strike nearly 2/3 of the time, while inducing swinging strikes at an insane 12% (Jimenez is at 8.7%). None of this is to disparage the Rockies ace, but more to show how insane this Johnson kid is. He has gotten better every year, pitches in a better pitcher’s park, and only needs two pitches to equalize any hitter.

The call is close, but looking forward, I’m taking the peripherals to heart. As the final hammer, I’m taking the 6’7”, 250 lb., fundamentally sound beast, over the 6’4”, 200 lb., lanky torque-baller. Imagine if Johnson had a real organization and offense behind him? Talk about scary. It’s splitting hairs, but the good money is on JJ.

Jimenez the Menace (by Justin Green)

Every one knows Ubaldo Jimenez is a top-tier pitcher. Is he a better pitcher, with higher fantasy value, than Josh Johnson? I say yes. Ubaldo’s value is higher because of his ability to get wins, stay in the game, adapt his approach, and learn new pitches.

Ubaldo will get you more wins than Johnson. He already has 14 this season compared to Johnson’s eight. He and Johnson have comparable numbers in Ks, ERA, and WHIP, but Ubaldo tips the scales to his favor in the wins category. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he can keep up this pace all season, but he is more likely to rack up more wins than Johnson. Why, exactly? Because Jimenez can start and finish games – or at least get the game to his closer. Ubaldo has pitched three complete games, including two shutouts. On the other side, Johnson has one complete game and zero shutouts. Also, in the games Ubaldo can’t finish, his bullpen has a better chance of closing the game out for him. The Rockies have the 12th-ranked bullpen in the bigs, ERA-wise, compared to the Marlins’ 26th-ranked unit. So when Ubaldo leaves games with the lead, his teammates will usually keep the lead and get him the win.

Another thing to consider in this discussion is Ubaldo’s durability. He has had a healthy season thus far; and despite leaving a start due to a hamstring strain suffered while running the bases, he has made all of his starts. He has also pitched deep into games, as evidenced by his complete game and shutout numbers referenced above. Johnson had Tommy John surgery in 2007 and made a quick recovery – 11 months – but his frame and throwing style raise questions about his continued health. I’ll take the wiry Jimenez and his loose throwing style over Johnson’s thick, hard-throwing approach. If you’re in a keeper league, Ubaldo is the way to go.

Ubaldo is also a superior keeper-league choice because of his ability to adapt to and learn new pitches. A recent profile of Jimenez by ESPN Magazine told a story of how he first started using a split-finger fastball. Jimenez was talking to Rockies reliever Luis Vizcaino and the curious starter asked him about his grip on the splitter because he did not throw it himself. After learning the grip, Jimenez threw it just a couple of times in a bullpen session and then used it in the next night’s game. He learned the pitch in 24 hours. Similarly, there is a story that Jimenez threw a slider for the first time in a bases loaded, two-out situation in Colorado Springs. Thinking the slider would be effective, he threw it and struck the batter out, despite having never thrown it before. These stories tell you how easily he was able to develop two of his six – Yes, I said six - pitches. With a six-pitch arsenal, Ubaldo won’t have to rely on power and speed to be effective three years, or five years, from now.

Jimenez is a better fantasy option than Johnson. Both pitchers have similar stats but Jimenez will get you more wins because he goes longer into games and hands the ball off to a stronger bullpen. Ubaldo has shown he can stay healthy and learn new pitches. He uses a finesse approach to go along with his seething heat and will be a highly valued pitcher in all leagues, especially keepers, for years to come.