Thoughts about Jurrjens’ future
When Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez removed Jair Jurrjens in the fourth inning of Monday night’s loss to the Dodgers, there was certainly reason to believe that the pitcher was destined to land on the disabled list or in the Minors. Unfortunately it’s hard to predict when he might return to the Majors and even harder to project whether he’ll ever regain the promise he had before his right knee became a problem.
Before learning that he had been optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday night Jurrjens said, “Right now, I’m not that same guy I used to be.”
Not even close.
Nine months after entering the All-Star break with the National League’s best ERA (1.87), Jurrjens approaches the final five months of his final arbitration-eligible season facing the reality that he could be non-tendered in December. This is obviously a fate that both he and the Braves would like to avoid.
Barring a drastic turnaround, the Braves are not going to be interested in paying Jurrjens the $7 million he could earn through arbitration for the 2013 season. But at the same time they do not want to go down the non-tender route and lose him without getting anything in return.
The Braves proved unsuccessful with their multiple attempts to move Jurrjens this winter. They thought they were very close to a deal that would have sent him and Jairo Asencio to the Reds in exchange for Chris Heisey and Juan Francisco. But the potential for that deal was erased when Cincinnati opted instead to send an impressive prospect package to the Padres for Mat Latos.
When talking about the Braves’ attempt to trade Jurrjens this past winter, multiple scouts said, “he’s hurt.” The baseball world is a small one full of chatter and numbers that supported this belief.
It’s amazing that Jurrjens has posted a 6.87 ERA in the 11 starts he has made since producing a 1.87 ERA in the 16 starts before last year’s All-Star break. But as many Sabermaticians said at the time, we should have all been amazed that a guy with these kinds of strikeout and fielding independent pitching statistics could have such a low ERA.
Jurrjens’ velocity has significantly declined since right knee discomfort forced him to miss the final two weeks and playoffs of the 2010 season. According to BrooksBaseball.net’s Pitch f/x data, his four-seam fastball maxed out at 96.3 mph during a Sept. 11, 2009 start in St. Louis and at 95.8 mph in a Aug. 15, 2010 start against the Dodgers.
That might be hard to believe after watching him max out at 91.4 mph during last night’s start against the Dodgers. But those of you who have watched closely over the past two years know that last night’s results were nothing new.
Here is a look at the average velocity of Jurrjens’ four-seam fastball according to FanGraphs.com’s PITCH f/x data:
Even when Jurrjens found success in his first 16 starts last year, his average velocity of his four-seamer was just 89.4 mph. That figure dropped to 88.6 mph in the seven starts he made after the All-Star break. And as the chart above shows, he’s been around that same mark this year.
After struggling through the exhibition season and then finding success in his final two starts against a pair of split-squad Astros teams, Jurrjens admitted it took him some time to gain confidence that his right knee was indeed healthy again. But he still has seemed tentative while pushing off the rubber since the regular season began.
Jurrjens underwent surgery to repair torn meniscus in his right knee after the 2010 season. Unlike Chipper Jones, who has returned from this surgery in less than three weeks twice in the last year, he had more than three months to regain strength in his leg before the start of Spring Training.
After cooperating through the first 3 1/2 months of the 2011 season, the knee became a problem and the diagnosis was a bone bruise.
Jurrjens has repeatedly said this year that the knee has not been a problem.
Hopefully, Jurrjens does prove to be healthy and capable of regaining his successful form. But right now, it is impossible to ignore the possibility that he is heading toward a sad end to a career that seemed so promising not too long ago.