Jimenez is treating us to a truly historic run of great pitching
In his first dozen starts this year,
Taking, for example, the pitcher seasons since 1947 with the 10 highest
To put what Jimenez has done so far in further context, consider that were he to pitch 21 games over the rest of the year at a rate of six innings per start, allowing an exactly average 4.10 ERA and running up a 7-7 won-loss record, his line at the end of the year would be 18-8 with a 2.78 ERA in 213.1 innings. This is, essentially, a normal
At least as impressive as what he's done is how he's done it.
There is, if we're honest, a slight prejudice against hard throwers, who are often thought to be a bit unsophisticated. The whole art of being a refined baseball fan is supposed to involve favoring the hidden and unseen. The aesthete prefers place-hitting to power, defense to any sort of hitting, and a certain delicacy in his pitchers. He appreciates the precision of Halladay's poisoned darts, or
This has a rational basis. Pitchers can only control so much of what happens on the field; the best are those who strike out a lot of hitters and walk very few, tricks which usually require a certain thoughtfulness of approach. This is an area of the game which devotees of style and of numbers can agree.
Jimenez throws his fastball harder than any starter in the major leagues and his changeup hits 90 miles per hour, more than plenty of respectable pitchers have on their heater. On a given night a pitcher such as
Another reason for his astounding effectiveness this year is that batters can't actually hit his pitches well. Jimenez doesn't strike out immense numbers of hitters, ranking just 25th in the majors in K rate. He's no control artist, either, as 51 pitchers walk fewer men per inning. Yet in 87.1 innings he has given up just 52 hits, the best rate in baseball, and of those hits just two have been home runs, as the movement of his pitches makes it nearly impossible to drive the ball.
You just have to watch Jimenez to see why. Most great pitchers rarely make the opposition appear as if they don't belong on his field; instead, they make them look as though they're merely having an off night. Not so with Jimenez. When he is pitching right, batters stare and gape as hard fastballs bore in on their hands and twist backwards as they cross the plate. They take wide hacks and tip the ball as if with a pool cue.
The Rockies' slender ace has obviously been lucky -- no pitcher can give up less than a run per game over a full third of a season without fair fortune. Still, to pretend that Jimenez has shown no special ability to make hitters swing spastically at balls that no one could hit is to ignore exactly what makes him so good: the ability to make the best hitters in the world look like fools.
It would be too much to say that Jimenez has been coasting on the raw strength of his arm; he isn't a mere thrower. Even his greatest admirers, though, would allow that he has nothing like the strategic mind of Martinez or Maddux in their primes, and that his main strength is his ability to let the ball go and watch it move. Even the most cultivated fan with the least use for a pitcher whose specialty is the hard pitch has to be wondering, though: What will happen if he learns how to put the ball exactly where he wants it? And how good will he be then?