It’s always disappointing when a young, stud arm succumbs to the torn elbow ligament. Tommy John surgery is always a cruel outcome, especially when that young pitcher is having what looked to be a breakout season. Yet that is the fate that has befallen With news that Brandon Beachy would land on the disabled list.
Of course the laws of physics (and the major league collective bargaining agreement) mandate that for every action there is a reaction. So to fill the unexpected void in their starting rotation, the Atlanta Braves announced they would recall Jair Jurrjens.
Yes, that Jurrjens. The same starter who was exiled to Triple-A before the end of April with a 9.37 ERA and 2.45 WHIP in his first four starts. The same Jurrjens who struggled at times following his demotion and wasn’t a lock to return to Atlanta’s rotation. It’s a surprising second chance for Jurrjens, who this time last year, was angling for a selection to the All-Star Game.
More after the jump...
Jurrjens has always been a fantasy risk. His xFIP in each of his previous three seasons shows a pitcher who consistently outperformed his real fantasy stats:
That’s consistent. And for his first two and a half seasons, his peripheral numbers were consistent as well. Roughly 6.5 SO/9, about 3.2 BB/9 and a shade under 1.0 HR/9.
These numbers aren’t All-Star caliber. Nor are they indicative of a quality fantasy starter. Yet, Jurrjens posted win totals in the low teens, a 3.20 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. That made him useful in a fantasy rotation.
But as we could have predicted from those numbers above, it's all gone horribly wrong.
As a 21 year old in Detroit’s system at Double-A, scouts radar guns picked up his fastball as high as 97 mph. According to PITCH f/x, Jurrjens average fastball during his best years registered at a tick above 91 mph. He lost velocity throughout the 2011 season and finished with an average heater of around 89 mph. A two mile per hour drop? Danger, danger. He’s followed that up with an average fastball of just 88 mph in his four starts for the Braves this season.
While his fastball has lost pace and become easy pickings for hungry hitters, the decline in velocity has also caused him to lose any kind of speed deception that could possibly set up his other pitches. His change, which once was a plus pitch, had just four miles per hour of separation from his fastball. With a slider that is his only other off speed pitch, Jurrjens lacks the repertoire to deal with the decline in velocity.
His turn at Gwinnett in the International League can’t inspire confidence. In nine starts, he’s posted a 5.27 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. With a 1.9 BB/9, he’s rediscovered his command that deserted him in his major league stint in April. However, with a paltry 4.5 SO/9, he’s not missing enough bats. It’s dangerous (and foolish) to read anything into a minor league BABIP, but his 58 percent strand rate suggests he ran into some hard luck. Still, when you’re not missing Triple-A bats, it’s difficult to blame struggles on bad luck. A fun stat worth noting: He finished his turn through the International League with more runs allowed (39) than strikeouts (28). Not good. Not good at all.
Reports have his fastball back into the low 90s. Jurrjens will need that if he is ever going to miss bats consistently. With a career 8.1 percent swing and miss rate, he’s never been an above average guy when it comes to having hitters flail about in the box. Before he was demoted his swing and miss rate was an anemic 4.4 percent - illustrating the ramifications of the lack of velocity separation between his fastball and his secondary pitches.
It’s possible that Jurrjens can add a couple miles per hour to his fastball and can remain in the big leagues as an effective starter. Just remember his underwhelming strikeout totals and xFIP numbers from the previous three seasons. Even if he has a couple of strong starts in his return, there isn’t an easy fix.
The real question is where is Jurrjens' "true" talent? He's not as good as he was in 2009 or 2010, and he's not as bad as he showed in his first four major league starts of 2012. (We hope.) The truth probably lies in his xFIP... Numbers that aren't especially encouraging.
To quote noted axeman Pete Townshend: "We won’t get fooled again."