The Jair Down There

The Atlanta Braves are flush with pitching. Trading minor contract albatross Derek Lowe for a spare minor league arm saved them a little bit of cash and now, rumor has it, the name Jair Jurrjens is next on the trade block.

A reported package of utility human Martin Prado and the possibly-injured Jurrjens is attracting a decent amount of attention. Fans concoct wild packages to offer the Braves in exchange for these two Major League-ready players.

There’s just one thing about Jurrjens – I don’t think he’s particularly good.

As Paul Swydan details in his Fangraphs piece on Jurrjens, his is something of a magic sprite, one able to outperform the sum of his parts. Which hardly makes him unique. The concern arises when we consider the kind of component company he keeps.

Since 2008, Jurrjens has a 16.5% K rate paired with 8.2% walk rate. His ground ball rate is a slightly less than sterling 44.7%. The only other right-handed starting pitchers with similar rates over that same time frame are Mike Pelfry and Jon Garland. Hardly standout group of hurlers.

If we shrink the time frame and look only at the two most recent seasons, you end up with an even grimmer group – you end up with Wade Davis. In the past two seasons, Jurrjens numbers dipped considerable, his K per 9 slipping below 6 and his ground ball rate sliding down to a mere 41%.

The slide in Jurrjens secondary numbers causes concern on multiple fronts. Not only did his velocity drop sharply from 2010 to 2011 (average fastball falling from 91.1 to 89.1), creating the “damaged goods” concern mentioned by Swydan in the Fangraphe piece, but he began relying on his slider more heavily than ever. Jurrjens threw his slider piece nearly 20% of the time in 2011 after going to it just 16% of the time the previous season.

A pitcher with lousy numbers and slipping velocity who is throwing a high-stress pitch like the slider more than ever before? Scary stuff. Doesn’t exactly scream “trade a key piece for me”, does it?

Jair Jurrjens looks to be on a very NL West-style career path. A once durable starter relegated to the large ballparks of the American Pacific Coast, eating innings at a good price until his reaches free agency in 2014. Is a player of this profile, with the health risks involved, worth offering up any sort of position player of substance?

One would assume not but one (all) have been wrong many, many times before. Even packaging a maybe-just-maybe league average player like Martin Prado doesn’t make Jurrjens the type of player worthy of a major sacrifice.