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April 2, 2012

The BP First Take

Monday, April 2

by Daniel Rathman

A little over a week ago, Ubaldo Jimenez and Troy Tulowitzki exchanged words in a Denver Post column. Yesterday, they exchanged them during the bottom of the first inning at Salt River Fields.

There’s more to the story, of course.

The spat between Jimenez and Tulowitzki began last year, when the latter was inked to a 10-year, $157.75 million extension, while the former was strung along and eventually traded to the Indians. From a business standpoint, negotiating a new deal with Jimenez was illogical for general manager Dan O’Dowd, considering that the Rockies already held reasonably-priced club options for the 2013 ($5.75 million) and 2014 ($8 million) seasons, and pitchers are a riskier long-term investment than hitters. Jimenez may have “seethed” over the Tulo and Carlos Gonzalez extensions, but he created his own negotiating disadvantage by coming to those team-friendly terms in 2009. He chose security then over big money now; the Rockies struck gold, and now he’s paying the price.

In the afore-linked column, Jimenez took his shots at the Rockies, emphasizing that he’s happy to be in Cleveland. Tulowitzki—the face of his franchise—got defensive. Neither said anything unreasonable. All was squared away… or, so it seemed.

The spat resurfaced yesterday when, with nobody on and two outs in the opening frame, a Jimenez fastball sailed into Tulowitzki’s elbow. Tulowitzki dropped his bat and began jawing at Jimenez. Jimenez dropped his glove and began jawing back at Tulowitzki. The benches cleared, but nobody fought and nobody was hurt.

Cooler heads certainly did not prevail after the game, either. Rockies manager Jim Tracy, upset that his star shortstop was in the hospital getting x-rays, called it “the most gutless act I have seen in 35 years of professional baseball.” Jimenez claimed that the pitch sailed inside, and that he only came after Tulowitzki because his former teammate took exception and called him names.

Regardless of any recent history between the two players, Tulowitzki’s reaction was understandable. He’s an emotional player, and the source of a mid-90s fastball at his elbow was a likely target for those emotions. Some might say that Jimenez should have manned up and stayed on the mound, but it’s not surprising that he felt the need to challenge Tulowitzki by coming forward, whether that move was fueled by the heat of the moment or the previous week’s spat.

The point is, we don’t know. We don’t know if Jimenez lost control of his heater and had a pitch aimed at the inside corner sail a foot too far to the right. We don’t know what Tulowitzki said. And we don’t know why Jimenez reacted to those words the way he did.

What we do know is that initial reports from Scottsdale suggested that we did know. Long before the video of the incident was uncovered by ESPN and posted online, those present described the sequence very differently. Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes tweeted that Jimenez “pounded his chest and walked toward Tulowitzki,” but did not mention—perhaps because he could not see it from the press box—Tulowitzki’s apparently inciting words. Others mentioned the spat in the papers days earlier, at least indirectly implying a connection.

All of that is true, but it also pushed those not at the game and without the background those reporters had to presume Jimenez was guilty. If Jimenez used a low-leverage point in a meaningless game to vent his frustrations with the Rockies and take a cheap shot at Tulowitzki, then the act certainly was gutless. But the point is, we don’t know.

The circumstantial evidence was laid out quickly on Sunday, leading many (myself included) to judge Jimenez immediately. But take a step back and rewind to Jimenez’s glory days with the Rockies, when Todd Helton called him a “smart” pitcher, The Denver Post featured his connection to his mom, and Tulowitzki told USA Today “I respect him” for staying grounded. Then, ask yourself: Does that sound like a man who would do what Jimenez is now accused of having done?

We now have two very different pictures of the 28-year-old Jimenez as he tries to resurrect his career in Cleveland. And the point is, we still don’t know—and we probably never will.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

11 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Randy Brown
(189)

This is a perfectly reasonable point of view Dan, and you are correct that we don't "know" whether Jiminez drilled him on purpose....but I still feel reasonably certain that he did.

I just can't believe that he would have bounded off the mound as quickly as he did unless he was already primed for a confrontation. Even if Tulo had insulted his wife, his mother, and his dog, it would have taken him a moment to process the insult and get angry about it. He was halfway to home plate in no time flat.

Apr 02, 2012 08:38 AM
rating: 0
 
GoTribe06

I am very surprised by all of this. First that the relationship of these former teammates has dissolved so far. I have to believe that there is more to this than one player being frustrated that he didn't get a long term contract and another just defending the team.

Second the way he came off the mound was startling. I agree that it appeared premeditated to some degree. There wasn't time for something specifically said to solicit that response.

But lastly I am surprised that Jimenez is being vilified to the degree that he his. I didn't interpret his actions as "gutless". If a pitcher intentionally hitting a batter is gutless, then I think the majority of pitchers in the major leagues have earned that label at one time or another. And I also don't think coming off the mound qualifies as gutless. It seemed to me that he was willing to take responsibility for his actions (and maybe commit a few more 'actions'). Gutless are pitchers who let their team take care of the dirty work after they incite the brawl.

In cases like this I am often reminded of my father, who will talk your ear off about Bob Gibson if given the chance. He will go on and on about his intensity and his fearlessness. To have him tell it, Gibson would put the ball in your back if you looked at him funny. And my dad loved him for it. In the same vein, we criticize modern players for not caring enough; treating the game too much like a job. It just seems strange that we loved the willingness to get a little dirty in previous generations, but it is often used now to create a bad guy figure when telling the story today

I am perfectly fine with Jimenez being suspended if we are saying that is the recourse we want when a pitcher 'intentionally' hits a batter. But I am not trying to make a character judgement of Jimenez as a person from this incident, even if it was intentional.

Apr 02, 2012 09:47 AM
rating: 2
 
dcarroll

I have no problem with your points, but I did want to point out that although Bob Gibson was an intense competitor, his reputation as a headhunter does not completely accord with the record. He never led the league in HBP. By contrast, a contemporary, Don Drysdale, did so five times.

I am not sure whether some of us remember particularly vivid games, or whether Gibson's later comments and writings reinforced that impression, or whether something else is at work. In any event, his reputation in this area exceeds his performance.

Apr 02, 2012 10:21 AM
rating: 0
 
GoTribe06

I appreciate your response. It should be noted that may father 1.) has never shied away from letting his memory aggrandize the past, and 2.) is not above the influence of any of the external factors you mentioned that may have been at work.

But I am sure that he would defend his position by pondering if the best gunfighter in the old west was necessarily the one who shot the most people. Sometimes your reputation precedes you.

Apr 02, 2012 10:32 AM
rating: 3
 
Andrew
(38)

To your point, Daniel, we may never know, and the press machine and hyperbole that followed certainly clouded the event itself.

However, one could argue that since such a "smart" pitcher lost control of a pitch against his rival in the lowest of leveraged situations (Spring Training, 1st inning, 0 on, 2 out) that it could be considered premeditated. I mean, if it were in the heat of battle, with complete disregard to the situation with the possibility of runs scoring or to perhaps lose the game would definitely appear more as an accident.

Of course, on the other hand, it was the first time they faced each other since the comments. Again, we will likely never know.

Apr 02, 2012 10:10 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

Presumably the umpires in charge of the game felt it was accidental, given that Jimenez was not ejected. I'm not sure that there is sufficient evidence to override their professional judgment.

While I accept that it's suspicious given the history in this case, if we automatically suspend without any other evidence, then we're more or less saying that you can't pitch inside to someone that you don't like.

Apr 02, 2012 15:06 PM
rating: 0
 
Agent007

Their agents ought to fight it out.

Apr 02, 2012 10:33 AM
rating: 2
 
Behemoth

Jimenez has just been banned for five games.

Apr 02, 2012 15:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Screamingliner

We can't know if Ubaldo was throwing at him, but signs point to yes. How many times have you seen a pitcher stalk off the mound toward the plate so quickly like that?

He got suspended, and rightly so.

Now, there was an easy way out of this, but Manny Acta didn't take it. Why was Ubaldo out there against the Rockies? That was just asking for trouble, and it arrived.

Apr 02, 2012 21:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

Hard to conclude that, unless you know what Tulo said to him.

Apr 03, 2012 03:47 AM
rating: 0
 
Screamingliner

Can't conclude anything, even if you know what he said.

Given the circumstances, my personal benefit of the doubt doesn't extend far enough to cover Jimenez.

Apr 03, 2012 12:11 PM
rating: 0
 
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