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Five Orioles stats that stand out: What's different about Ubaldo Jiménez's 2017 struggles?

In one of the sadder traditions in all of baseball, it's time to take stock of just what's gone wrong with Ubaldo Jiménez this year.

The Orioles' beleaguered starter is in one of the more difficult stretches in his time with the club after allowing six runs in four-plus innings Monday against the Minnesota Twins, bringing his ERA to 7.17 and calling his rotation spot into question.

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Is this like the other times, though? And what has gone into this year's struggles that might be different from the ones before? This week's edition of five stats that stand out examine the struggling Orioles starter's season, and if there's any kind of way out of it for him.

2.32 – One thing Jiménez has never struggled with this much is keeping the ball in the park. His 2.32 home runs per nine innings are far and away the highest of his career, with his previous career high for a season being 1.27 in 2012 with the Cleveland Indians. His worst with the Orioles was the 1.01 rate he posted in both 2014 and 2016. And on this same front, his 23.8 percent home run/fly ball rate means almost one of every four fly balls is leaving the park — way up from his career 9.9 percent rate (which is just about league average). Manager Buck Showalter has said too many balls of his are finding the middle of the plate this year, and this is a consequence of that. [Source: FanGraphs]

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5 – Call it trouble with the split. In his three full seasons with the Orioles, Jiménez allowed three, four and three home runs on his split-fingered fastball, which is arguably his best off-speed pitch. Generally, opponents have never made much good contact with it. But this year, he has allowed five home runs on the pitch, plus one that Brooks Baseball classifies as coming on a changeup and very well could've come on a splitter. It could just be Jiménez is leaving the pitch over the plate more often, but so many of the big moments this year for him involve him hanging a splitter and watching it leave the park. [Source: BrooksBaseball and Baseball Savant]

21.4 – With as much movement as Jiménez's arsenal has, some of the value is that he'll get opponents to swing at pitches outside the zone. This year, however, opponents are only swinging at barely one out of five pitches out of the zone (21.4 percent), which is the lowest of his career and second lowest among anyone who has pitched at least 40 innings this season. That goes a long way to explain his always-high 5.27 walks per nine innings and career-low 6.75 strikeouts per nine. Truthfully, no one is offering at much of anything he throws. Opponents are swinging at just 40 percent of his pitches, also second lowest in the league.

75 – Game score was created to boil a pitcher's line down to a single number, with 50 representing average, anything else better and anything else worse. Forty is the threshold below which "poor" would apply, according to FanGraphs. And six of Jiménez's eight game scores this year are 40 or below, which makes for an even 75 percent. Last year, 10 of 25 (40 percent) were below 40. In 2015, it was nine of 32 (28.1 percent), and in his first year with the Orioles, 2014, it was seven of 22 (31.8 percent). So while all of those seasons included stretches like this and also featured times when he was much better, this is as consistently underwhelming as he has been. [Source: Baseball-reference.com]

88 – It's not too high, considering the league leader among pitchers who have thrown 750 pitches is at 90.7 mph, but Jiménez's 88 mph exit velocity is noteworthy for how the hard and soft contact he allows balances out. It's the same as he posted last year, but the breakdown is different. Using their proprietary contact descriptors, FanGraphs has Jiménez's hard contact rate at a career-high 36.4 percent, and his medium contact rate as 45.7 percent. There's nothing outwardly apparent in the batted ball rate, but there's so much else that's different this year about Jiménez that the rest of it seems to just be paying for it worse than normal. [Source: Baseball Savant and FanGraphs]

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