Where’s the Love for Jair Jurrjens?

by Jimmy Hascup

Amidst the hoopla surrounding the battle for the NL Cy Young, there are inevitably pitchers who fly under the radar almost to the point where they aren’t even appreciated.

Jair Jurrjens is one of those pitchers.

While I’m not going to say nobody acknowledges the job Jurrjens has done this year (and oh yeah, last year too), I am convinced that he’s not receiving enough love in the discussions of the games best pitchers. With that being said, I’d like to reveal the letter I’m sending to the Braves organization.

Dear Atlanta Braves,

Maybe between the pennant race and your future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones hinting at retirement, you haven’t fully kept track of the burgeoning ace you have in your rotation. Or maybe it was the huge expectations you had for Derek Lowe, after you signed him for $60 million over four years this offseason? Should’ve let him go to the Mets; it could’ve freed up some cash for a big bat you guys desperately need. You guys are right in the thick of things, but with a 4.55 ERA on the year, his signing has been a bit of a letdown.

Could it be that you’re already concocting potential trade packages for Tim Hudson this offseason? Or possibly Tommy Hanson’s Rookie of the Year bid has you shopping around for party supplies? Oh no, I’ve got it. You’re in awe that at 33-years-old Javier Vazquez was able to chip almost two runs off of his ERA this year and is putting together the best season of his 12-year career. That’s got to be it!

Whatever your preoccupations are, you’re forgetting about your team’s MVP, Jair Jurrjens. If you’re wondering what he’s done, Jurrjens has only compiled the league’s sixth best ERA at 2.70 (which is ahead of Vazquez’s 2.91). He’s also got a solid 1.24 WHIP. He’s becoming a workhorse-pitching over 200 innings this year, at the age of 23. He only has 6.3 K/9 this year, but since when are superb strikeout numbers the only determinant of a pitchers value? Your beloved Greg Maddux had a 6.1 K/9 ratio, while Tom ‘Terrific’ Glavine had one of 5.3. It’s not like those low strikeout numbers tainted their careers!

The 6’1″ right-hander is 13-10 on the year, which is identical to last season’s totals. His record is misleading, though. Since he finished third in the ROY voting last year, Jurrjens has continued to progress. His WHIP has dropped from 1.37 to 1.24; he’s allowing less hits this year 7.9 H/9 compared to 9.0 H/9 last season. He’s also continuing to limit the long-ball, with a stellar 0.6 HR/9 mark, which is right on par with his 0.5 HR/9 last year.

Jurrjens’ FIP of 3.71 indicates that maybe his ERA is a bit lucky, mostly due to the fact he has a pretty high 78.6 percent strand rate this season. But even if his ERA is in the mid-3s, can we complain all that much? His BABIP of .276 suggests some moderation in his ERA is plausible if the season was longer, but it really isn’t too far away from the norm. And while his fly ball rate has spiked to almost 40 percent (from 27 percent last season), we can only hope it’s a fluke.

Also, when you’ve got three pitches-a fastball, slider, and change-up that have all slightly improved from last season, I’d say the future is looking bright for your young ace. For a glimpse (based on Fangraphs’ pitch metrics, measured in runs prevented per 100 pitches):

  • Fastball: 0.15 to 0.59
  • Slider: 0.40 to 0.54
  • Change-up: 0.57 to 0.62

Jurrjens pitches to contact, but when you exhibit decent control (3.2 BB/9), have three solid pitches, and have no problems displaying your full repertoire (62% fastball/15% slider/23% change-up), hitters have a tough time sitting on one pitch in an at-bat. Although he doesn’t throw particularly hard (low 90s at best), the fact that he doesn’t necessarily favor any one pitch bodes well for him.

Let’s put his season in perspective: with the hundreds of pitchers who have thrown this year, Jurrjens has the 14th highest VORP (as of 9/23). According to Baseball Prospectus, Jurrjens has a VORP of 53.5. For those wondering, Zach Greinke has a VORP in the 80s and everyone ahead of Jurrjens has one in the 50s or 60s. The statistics don’t lie; Jurrjens has been stellar.

With my petition in mind, I’d like you to nominate Jair Jurrjens as the Atlanta Braves’ MVP for this season. He hasn’t received the love yet, so it’s about time you show him some!

Best,

Jimmy

What do you guys think? Is Jurrjens a top-tier starter? Or am I treating him too nicely?

One comment

  1. Neil says:

    I think you nailed it when you mentioned the FIP of 3.71.

    With a K/BB actually under 2.0, he really needs to excel at preventing the long ball if he wants to be successful. He has done this in 2009 and 2008.

    The BABIP was higher in 2008 because he had a much higher GB%. This year, his GB% fell from 51% to 42% and his FB% increased from 27% to 39%. More fly balls = fewer hits, but more HR.

    Jair has been great, but Hanson and Javy have been better. And I would draft both of them well ahead of Jair in 2010.

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