Sunday, January 11, 2015

Random Ex-Brave: Jair Jurrjens

There was a time where the Braves witnessed the rise-and-fall of several starting pitchers. Their names are almost synonymous with a time when the Braves were just trying to contend for division titles and not much else. In slightly more than 300 innings, Chuck James went from not-really-a-prospect to internet-sensation-with-Chuck-Norris-related-memes to finally becoming the five-innings-and-get-the-pen-in guy. Eventually, he actually got worse. Another lefty, Horacio Ramirez, had a similar rise-and-fall that I profiled in this series last November. 521.1 ING with a few bright spots and lots of poor pitching. Tommy Hanson was a huge mancrush of yours truly. My name is Tommy and Hanson, at the time, had big strikeout potential. That seemed like enough to crush on. But he would later get a case of Jurrjenitis.

Jurrjenitis is a syndrome that sees a pitcher lose velocity and throw a lot of batting practice pitches right down the middle.

It comes from Jair Jurrjens, a right-handed pitcher from Curacao who went to an All-Star Game and was non-tendered less than two years later. Amazingly, despite the Braves incredible success in Curacao, Jurrjens was actually signed by the Tigers. He would become a significant prospect for them, rising the minor league ladder before hitting the majors for a cup of coffee with Detroit in 2007. The #49th best prospect in the game according to Baseball America, the Tigers shipped him off to the Braves for Edgar Renteria because, I guess, John Smoltz wasn't enough. The Tigers would lose 88 games in 2008 with Renty posting a .699 OPS. Oopsie.

Meanwhile Jurrjens threw 188.1 innings on his way to a 3.68 ERA and a 3.59 FIP. He finished a distant third in the Rookie of the Year voting, but it looked like the Braves had found a gem in new general manager Frank Wren's first year on the job.

After he looked even better in his sophomore campaign (215 innings, 2.60 ERA, 3.68 FIP, and a 1.21 WHIP), there were many who felt Jurrjens was going to play a prime role in the Braves rotation that would thrive in the second decade of the 21st century. Joining Jurrjens with an established role in the majors was Hanson, an imposing right-hander who had replicated Jurrjens' third place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting during 2009 despite sticking in the minors until June to avoid being Super 2 eligible. On the way to join them was Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, and Arodys Vizcaino along with fringe prospects like Brandon Beachy, J.J. Hoover, and Brett Oberholtzer. If only half of these prospects played out to join Jurrjens and Hanson, the Braves would have a rotation that could compete for the best in the league.

Yeah...about that...

We probably should have known it was going to happen for, at least, Jurrjens. Again, Jurrjens posted a 2.60 ERA vs. a 3.68 FIP in 2009. Only three other starters that year qualified for the ERA title and had a difference of ERA-FIP over 1.00. That means there is something askew that the metrics are seeing that should taper our excitement. A similar pitcher, Randy Wells, was headed to a short career as well, after having a difference of -83 points in 2009. While a number like E-F can't be an exact science, it should give us pause unless the pitcher can repeat it.

Jurrjens couldn't. He struggled over 20 starts in 2010, getting especially owned by left-handed hitters who posted an OPS approaching .900 against him. He missed time early in the season and Braves fans would have liked him to miss time late in the year as well (an ERA well over 6.00 in his final half-dozen starts). He bounced back for a solid first-half in 2011. He was even awarded with an appearance in the All-Star Game. But people were skeptical of the chances of him continuing his success, especially after a knee injury wrecked the rest of the season. Most concerning was a notable drop in velocity. After sitting in the 91-92 mph range for average velocity, Jurrjens slipped to 89 mph the next year. When your car drops two miles an hour, it's not noticeable. In a game of milliseconds, when a pitcher loses 2 mph of his heater, it becomes very noticeable.

Again, his FIP and xFIP told a different story for Jurrjens in 2012. While his ERA was a sparkling 2.96, his FIP was 3.99 and his xFIP was 4.23. Even without the missed time, we knew something was off.

His 2013 made it abundantly clear that the pitcher who became such an overnight success for the Braves was headed south and it was as quick as we could ever imagine. The Braves could only stomach eleven starts from Jurrjens and his 6.89 ERA. In his final two starts with the Braves, he surrendered 14 runs while pitching just 5.2 ING. His final start was especially rather depressing. After an appearance out of the pen, Jurrjens was banished to the minors.

It was a no-brainer, but after the season, the Braves non-tendered the former All-Star. After spending the previous offseason seeking out a Mat Latos return for Jurrjens (Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger, Yasmani Grandal, and Edison Volquez), the Braves were giving away Jurrjens for nothing. Since being forced out of Atlanta, Jurrjens has tried his luck with four different organizations in two years, but has appeared just twice each for the Orioles and Rockies. Where he lands for 2015, if anywhere, is still up in the air. But how far he has fell...not much of a debate. Jurrjens, like Hanson, has entered a stage of their career where survival is their highest goal. On the plus side, at least he has this to come home to.

Want more Ex-Braves? Check out the last three...
Mark Whiten
Henry Blanco
Norm Charlton

...or click here for the main page for random Ex-Braves.

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