Jurrjens’ decline has magnified velocity drop
After surrendering three homers and getting battered by the Nationals for the third time in the past six weeks, Jair Jurrjens stood in front of his locker Tuesday night and said his right knee is fine. But at the same time, Jurrjens indicated the knee is still causing him to experience some hesitance. <p>
“The knee is fine,” Jurrjens said. “I just need to clear my mind up and start trusting it again.”
This seemed to be the most telling line delivered after Jurrjens allowed the Nationals six earned runs and eight hits in six innings.
Jurrjens missed the final two weeks of last year’s regular season because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. The ailment was that repaired via arthroscopic surgery in October and all seemed fine until the beginning of this month when he exited a third consecutive disappointing outing and revealed he did not feel he had regained all of his strength in his leg.
There have been reasons for concern during each of the three starts Jurrjens has made since returning from the All-Star break. Yes, this includes last week’s Houdini act against the Cubs. Now the 25-year-old hurler is admitting that he feels he has been hesitant and unable to trust his body through his delivery.
When Jurrjens was posting a National League-best 1.87 ERA before the All-Star break, it was easy to ignore the signs that would have indicated he was not necessarily pitching at full strength. But as he has posted a 5.86 ERA in his seven starts since the break and surrendered nine home runs in his past 36 1/3 innings, the 25-year-old right-hander has certainly brought attention to the fact that his velocity has been down throughout this season.
With assistance from baseball-reference.com, brooksbaseball.net , FanGraphs.com and PITCHf/x, we get a sense of the difference Jurrjens has realized with the velocity of both his fastball and slider this year.
FanGraphs.com shows the average velocity of Jurrjens’ fastball from 2007-10 was 91.55 mph. Through his first 23 starts this year, his fastball has averaged 89.1 mph. His highest average fastball velocity during any one game this year was 91.01 mph — set May 2, in his fourth start of the season.
In fact his fastball has averaged 90 mph or better in just four starts, with the most recent being his June 19 outing against the Rangers.
Concerns regarding the velocity of his slider seemed pretty minimal until he experienced an even greater decrease since the All-Star break. The average velocity of Jurrjens’ slider entering this year was 80.23 mph. This year it sits at 79.19 mph.
Before plotting where Jurrjens’ velocity has stood at certain points this season, it should be reiterated that his velocity has been down all season. But while he posted a 1.87 ERA through his first 16 starts, scouts and talent evaluators saw him create greater movement with his pitches.
This could certainly be a product of concerns he has about his right knee when it comes time to push off the rubber and make his pitches. As one evaluator pointed out this morning, “he certainly didn’t seem to be hesitant when he gave up that (fifth-inning homer to Ryan Zimmerman) and then struck (Mike) Morse out with three pitches. He looked (ticked) off.”
With five starts remaining this year, there is still time for Jurrjens to right himself before the postseason and reintroduce himself to the success he had when he impressively pitched himself through the season’s first half without his normal velocity.
Jurrjens’ Average Velocity from 2007-2010: Fastball - 91. 6 mph /Slider 80.2 mph
Average Velocity in 2011: Fastball 89.1 mph / Slider 79.2 mph
Average Velocity Through the All-Star Break: Fastball 89.3 mph/Slider 79.4 mph
Average Velocity Since All-Star Break: Fastball 88.6 mph/Slider 78.5 mph
Obviously Jurrjens’ velocity has dropped even further since the All-Star break. But the increasing decline seemed to truly start after he labored through a 116-pitch, 5 1/3-inning victorious effort against the Rangers under a hot sun on June 19. His fastball averaged 90.49 mph that afternoon.
When Jurrjens faced the Padres later that week, his fastball averaged just 87. 67 mph. His only lower average velocity in a game this year was 87.59 mph, posted during last week’s outing against the Cubs.
Average Velocity Through the Rangers Start: Fastball 89.4 mph / Slider 79.6 mph
Average Velocity Since Rangers Start: Fastball 88.7 / Slider 78.6 mph
When Jurrjens rested his knee while spending the first two weeks of this month on the disabled list, he hoped to return with fresh legs. But while he is not feeling any discomfort, he has really seen no change in the velocity he has produced since that Rangers start.
Average Velocity Since Being Activated This Month: Fastball 88.6 mph / Slider 78.3 mph
Before he endured last year’s injury-plagued season, Jurrjens’ fastball usually sat in the low 90s and occasionally jumped a few ticks when he needed to record a strikeout in certain situations. In other words, he has never been considered a pitcher who relies heavily on his velocity.
But as he has continued to struggle to regain the velocity he has had in the past, Jurrjens has created even more reason to question his health and ability to prove dependable again down the stretch.