Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Was Jair Jurrjens' Trade Value Hype?

Coming into the offseason after last year's debacle, any trade speculation involving the Braves also seemed to include Jair Jurrjens.  According to Dave O'Brien, Jon Heyman, Jayson Stark, and a score of bloggers, the Braves were fielding offers for Jurrjens.  Even more, Frank Wren was in the enviable position of waiting for a Zack Grienke-like haul, or at least that was the feeling.

But as the winter months got colder, no deal seemed relatively close.  There was the Rockies and reports said they were interested in both Jurrjens and Prado and names like Seth Smith, Charlie Blackmon, and Tim Wheeler were thrown around.  The Reds supposedly liked Jurrjens before trading for Mat Latos.  The Yankees were expected to be interested, though not sure if they really cared.  The Orioles liked him, but weren't fond of trading him as part of a deal that included Adam Jones.  The Royals were in on Jurrjens, but a reported deal of Jurrjens/Prado for Lorenzo Cain/Wil Myers was quickly shouted down.

All told, 8-10 teams were supposedly in on Jurrjens, but the winter ended with Jurrjens still a Brave.  A messy spring with injuries followed.  Once games started to matter, Jurrjens fell flat, walking more batters than he struck out and posting a sad FIP of 7.89.  A quick demotion and an uneven reign as a Gwinnett Brave later, Jurrjens will return to Atlanta on Friday to take Brandon Beachy's spot in the rotation.

Makes you wonder if Jurrjens' trade value ever matched the hype that he was getting on the interwebs.  Jurrjens, who turned 26 last January, is a young starter with a 119 major league starts on his record, 115 before this season.  A 1.28 WHIP with a 120 ERA+ coming into this season gave the impression of a good starter, but the hype was that he was being marketed as a great starter.  One thing is clear.  Even before this season, Jurrjens didn't have the credentials of Greinke or the domination of Latos.

(Sidebar, Latos has struggled with the Reds...and I think a big part of that comes down to the fact that he gives up too many flyballs.  Why the Reds don't focus on extreme groundball-type guys in that park boggles my brain)

Jurrjens' walk rate has routinely topped the 3.0 BB/9 mark, though it fell sharply last year to 2.6.  In addition, his K rate had topped a half-dozen per nine innings, though that also fell last season to 5.3.  The people who are paid the big bucks should have seen the writing on the wall.  When your ERA is a full run lower than your FIP, something is amiss and last July, the ballsy never-done move would have been the right one.  Course, hindsight's great and everything.  However, a view at the numbers BEHIND the numbers gave the impression that Jurrjens wasn't so much taking his place among the better pitchers in baseball as he was getting by with 75%, 25% smoke-and-mirrors.  His positive production wasn't sustainable, even without going into his final few months of injury-shortened baseball.

July of last year was really the only window Wren had to cash in on Jurrjens to hope for the Geinke-like package.  If he was still hoping to see it last winter, he was a fool.  I'm not privy to any numbers that no one else can't see and most upper management includes at least one guy who has heard of FIP or WAR.  Maybe they don't listen to them so frequently, but they are there.  And maybe they look like Jonah Hill from Moneyball, but really, they are there and advising other GM's.  As they prepared offers for Jurrjens, because while his value wasn't sky-high, he still had value as a good clog in the middle of the rotation, their offers and interest simply couldn't match the hype about Jurrjens.  The results were there to show this.  The Royals weren't in the slight bit interested in giving up Myers for Jurrjens and his salary bump despite their huge need for starting pitching.  The Rockies wouldn't even consider Nolan Arenado and tried to pawn off some high-reward guys.  The O's?  Yeah, I can imagine that discussion.

Wren:  "Yeah, I really like Adam Jones and I think I can put together a good package of players starting with All-Star Jair Jurrjens and...hello?  Hello?"

Whether Wren was all that interested in the big package of players headed his way like the Royals got for Greinke or the D'Backs got for Dan Haren is up for debate.  I'd like to believe he wasn't that stupid.  I'd like to believe he was interested in getting a couple of potentially good bats, but hardly top prospects.  Or maybe he was convinced that, coming off an All-Star year and a supposedly breakout campaign, Jurrjens was now one of the top young pitchers in the game.  If he was, I'd add that fact to an increasing number of notes that are giving me the impression that a man I once thought was one of the better GM's in baseball doesn't deserve such respect. 

Jurrjens is back in the bigs come Friday and is trying to rebuild himself as a significant member of the Braves.  His 4.46 FIP in the minors this year doesn't give a guy much confidence that he can reach that former success.  If he can put together a couple of good starts, Wren needs to sell high.  He needs to market Jurrjens as a starter headed back to his former glory and maybe now, the O's will be interested in a lesser deal.  The Orioles are so desperate, they have given minor league deals to guys like Jaime Moyer and Dontrelle Willis.  Why not trade for Jurrjens?  The market might not be much, but maybe the O's would be up for 1B Tyler Townsend, IF Tyler Kelly, and anyone else named Tyler to go along with left-handed reliever Troy Patton or right-handed reliever Darren O'Day.  This may not seem like a lot, but Jurrjens doesn't look to me like a guy who has much of a future.  Grab some potential bats and a reliever to help this season and let the O's or another squad gamble on him. 

But this does require Jurrjens to, ya know, pitch relatively well for a couple of starts.  A foreign concept, I know.

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