In arguably their biggest move of the offseason yet, the Detroit Tigers have signed starting pitcher José Ureña to a one-year deal at $3.25 million. Ureña can earn up to a quarter of a million dollars in incentives based on the number of games he starts.
Ureña, who is 29 years old, hasn’t pitched very well in his major league career. He’s not great at anything. In looking at his walk rates, strikeout rates, and ability to manage contact over the years, nothing stands out as a positive. His FIP, xFIP, and SIERA have never been below four in a single-season, and he’s never posted a pwOBA below league average. His wOBA has been below the league average — which is a good thing — twice.
296 pitchers faced at least 90 batters in the 2020 regular season. Ureña’s .354 pwOBA ranked as the 284th highest. His SIERA was over six!
Nothing is pretty or promising about Ureña’s results-based statistics. I would imagine the Tigers wouldn’t object to this assertion. Detroit must love the raw arsenal, as Ureña was given meaningful innings in Miami when healthy.
One thing Ureña does well is he throws the ball hard. His average fastball velocity this past season — over 95 mph — ranked in the 82nd percentile.
He throws four pitches and doesn’t seem to locate any of them well on a consistent basis.
- sinker (41.7% in 2020)
- slider (32.3%)
- 4-seam fastball (18.9%)
- changeup (7.1%)
Compared to similar MLB sinkers in terms of velocity and release extension, Ureña’s sinker generates an above average amount of horizontal and vertical action.
When located effectively, Ureña’s sinker is a good one. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do that regularly. Throwing his sinker in the zone more often could help Ureña be more successful. Of the 155 pitchers that threw at least 100 sinkers/2-seamers in 2020, only seven threw their sinkers out of the zone more often than Ureña did (58.2% of the time).
As we established, Ureña’s sinker moves a lot; therefore, one would think that the pitch wouldn’t get hit all that hard. In actuality, hitters slugged over .600 against the pitch. This is probably because he throws his sinker so often when behind in the count. These are situations in which he “has to” throw a strike.
Ureña’s 4-seam fastball is below average despite its solid velocity, as it features below-average vertical movement and spin. The pitch does have above-average horizontal movement, but I don’t think that’s what Ureña should be aiming for.
As you can see in the graph below courtesy of Baseball Savant, José Ureña’s sinker and 4-seamer move in the same horizontal direction. There is about a six-inch difference in the average amount of horizontal break for his sinker and 4-seam fastball. Spencer Turnbull, who pitches in the Tigers’ rotation, has an approximately thirteen-inch difference between his sinker and 4-seamer. That’s over double Ureña’s!
Ureña’s changeup is terrible. I’m fairly confident he uses it purely as a change-of-pace/get-me-over pitch. His changeup moves similarly to his sinker, but it is five miles per hour slower. If the Tigers move Ureña to the bullpen, as they should, he won’t need to throw a changeup again.
The fourth pitch Ureña throws is a slider. Independently, I don’t think his slider is major league caliber. With that being said, I think it complements his sinker well since they move in opposite directions. He may benefit from trying to get more horizontal break on the pitch to further differentiate it from his sinker.
When I first heard about this signing, I didn’t think much of it. If Ureña minimizes the amount of horizontal movement on his 4-seamer and does the opposite with his slider, though, he can be a good reliever. Considering Ureña has only one good pitch at the moment — his sinker — he’s probably best off in a role like the one Daniel Norris had last season (multi-inning guy out of the pen). At one year and $3.5 million, this deal seems like a decent one.