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.

Comments (12)

  1. I don’t know if I buy those arguments. He’s no prime trade candidate – but this guy is 25 and in his 2008 and 2009 seasons he posted a 3.6 FIP (and almost 8 WAR combined), and with the exception of 2010 where he was hurt he’s posted sub 4 FIP in each year. Not bad for a 25 year old.

    Peripherals and batted ball rates can tell a lot about a pitcher, but there are always guys who consistently defy what some consider standard flaws.

    • Also – he did post those strong seasons but most of the value is drawn from his workhorse status. If he’s still hurt, where does that put him?

      • If he’s still hurt who knows? Answering that is well out of ability. If he is healthy then I think at 25 he is an extremely valuable commodity. There aren’t too many 25 year old pitchers who have posted multiple sub 3 era seasons with 1.2 WHIPs.

        To call him a workhorse is strange to me. I mean he’s only pitched over 200 innings once in his career. A quick scan over his game logs over the past 4 seasons seems to show that he’s only gone the distance twice in his career (both this past season).

        I think that the market is so bare for quality starting pitching this offseason – considering Keith Law had Mark Buerlhe in his top 10 free agents overall says it all.

        If at 25 he hasn’t even come close to reaching his prime years yet – I’d be willing to take a gamble and hope that he’s healthy. His peripheral stats aren’t overwhelming by any means – but it’s not like he has accumulated those numbers facing NL West offences in NL West ballparks.

        Taking a look at his career splits against NL East teams – he’s had better numbers against the “big” offences of the Mets and Phillies than the Nationals/Marlins.

        • What’s wrong with Mark Buerhle? If anything, Buhrlhe is a very similar pitcher to Jurrjens but with fewer walks. No strikeouts, fly balls. Of course he’s older but he has none of the injury risks.

          • Well that’s it exactly though – there’s nothing wrong with Mark Buerhle – but he’s seven years older than a pitcher very similar to him (albeit without the injury risk).

            The fact that Buerlhe was ranked the second highest pitcher available from Law and yet your concerned about Jair’s perceived value confuses me.

            If Jair is putting up Buerhle like numbers at 25, and is available isn’t he far more interesting for the right trade pieces than Mark is on an open free agent market?

  2. And frankly I think your shot at Prado for being a “maybe-just-maybe league average player” is pretty brutal. Albeit is 2011 wasn’t impressive, in 2010 is 4.4 fWAR ranked him as the sixth best second baseman in the league, ahead of Brandon Phillips, Ian Kinsler, and Ben Zobrist.

    • #1 – League average player isn’t a slam. 2.5-3 WAR is a league average player. Not bad at all.

      #2 – This year still counts. He still hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season. He is also a guy who sees a decreasing number of pitches in the strike zone without any real change to his swing rates. The league pitches his differently and he doesn’t adjust. Was that the sole source of his low BABIP last year? No, but it is a worrying trend for a player who doesn’t really walk.

      • Calling him a league average player is one thing – insinuating that this year suggests he may not even be a league average player is another.

        And you are completely right – a 2.5-3 WAR player is league average, but 2 of his last 3 seasons have been above 3 WAR seasons, including his very, very good 2010 4.4 WAR season.

        As for his health/durability – again I am no expert. I do know that Cox had an incredible habit for switching up his lineups and that 2010 was the first year where Prado was unquestionably a starter.

        His walk rate certainly isn’t impressive – but one can also do far worse than a career 340 OBP.

        Do I think a team is going to ridiculously overpay for these two – yes.

        Do I think adding these two to a team is benefit – yes.

        Adding 4 WAR players to a team is never a bad thing – there is value in both of these guys and for the right price some team might get quite the bargain for two relatively young and cheap players.

        And none of this factors in ATLs reputation for being a – how should we put this – very Caucasian favoured team.

      • “Even packaging a maybe-just-maybe league average player like Martin Prado”

        Not so much to brag on Prado, who I think is no all-star but given the alternatives, might be a sutible acquisition.

        BUT

        A lot of jays fans seem gaga over the idea of keeping Kelly Johnson.

        Prado’s WAR over the last 3 years are 3.2, 4.4, 1.6, 9.2 in all
        Johnson’s is 2.2, 5.9, 0.8 totaling 8.9

        Johnson is 20 months older; Johnson played an impressive TEN more games than Prado over the last three years; Johnson will likely make some $2 per year more than Prado and might oblige you to multiple years to sign and cost you two draft picks;

        There BABiP is very close on the career, So’s there OBP and SLG; Johnson is faster, but strikes out way more.

        Point being – if you think Prado is “maybe league average” then don’t let me here you telling mew how golly-gee-whiz good Johnson is.

        (not saying that’s been your claim Drew, but i see it often)

  3. As I pointed out in the Fangraphs post : Thames + MiLB arm for Jurrjens. Let’s get er done.

  4. Jurjjens + Prado makes a ton of sense for the Jays if the price is right. A 28-year-old second baseman who gets on base? Yes please. Add in a useful arm like Jurjjens and I could consider giving up Snider (if the team is drinking the Thames kool-aid).

  5. to be clear, i have NO interest in Jair in ANY context unless AA has a deal set up in advance to flip him for something we actually need.

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