Sometimes you need a bit of context.
And then later, another bit of context.
It's like that with just about everything, actually. But right now we'll limit ourselves to contextualizing Ubaldo Jiménez, currently a baseball pitcher with baseball's Cleveland Indians (a.k.a. The Tribe). Yesterday I saw this "tweet" on the Internet:
Ubaldo battling history this September. His current 5.61 ERA would be highest qualifying singe-season ERA by an Indians starter since 1921.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 5, 2012
Why, though, limit our time-traveling to 1921? Why not set the Way Back Machine to 1901, the Tribe's inaugural season? Fortunately, we have that power (thanks to Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index).
Here are the five worst ERAs in franchise history, pending Jimenez's Wednesday-night start against the Tigers:
1. Ubaldo Jiménez (2012) - 5.610
2. Lary Sorensen (1982) - 5.609
3. Jack Morris (1994) - 5.604
4. Earl Whitehill (1938) - 5.56
5. Cliff Lee (2004) - 5.43
So it's really close, but yeah.
I was wondering, though -- you know, because of context -- if Jiménez has really been that bad. What if we look instead at adjusted ERA?
1. Ubaldo Jiménez (2012) - 69
2. Bob Feller (1952) - 71
3. Lary Sorensen (1982) - 74
4. Rick Waits (1981) - 75
5. Roberto Hernandez (2011) - 75
Yeah, it's hard to sugarcoat that ERA, adjusted or not.
Let me try, though.
Jiménez has given up only three unearned runs all season, which is an exceptionally small number. Larry Sorensen gave up 12 unearnies in 1982; Hernandez (p.k.a. Tribesman Fausto Carmona) gave up 15 last year. So that's a positive marker for Jiménez.
The other good news is that Jiménez, despite his ERA, isn't hopeless. He's probably been somewhat unlucky this season, with peripheral numbers suggesting an ERA in the neighborhood of 5, rather than close to 6. He's still not nearly what the Indians thought they were getting when they traded two really good pitching prospects to get him. Boy, wouldn't they love to have Alex White and Drew Pomeranz back?
But the Indians have an option on Jiménez's services for next season. Considering a $1-million buyout, it will cost the Tribe $4.75 million to bring him back. And doing that might not be as foolish as his ERA suggests. Even if he's probably not going to become the new Cliff Lee.