Jurrjens Showing Improvement In AAA

When you’re 0-2 and your ERA is over 9.00 you really can’t expect people to think too highly of you. This was exactly the case with Braves starter Jair Jurrjens.

Since being demoted down to AAA he has shown signs of improvement. He’s currently 1-0 with a 1.80era and had a very impressive outing on Sunday where he went 8 strong innings allowing only 2 runs on 95 pitches. You can’t beat that. He went deep into the game, kept his pitch count low and showed excellent control as he only walked one batter.

Are AAA hitters the same quality as Major League hitters? Of course not. If they were then they wouldn’t be in the minors. However we need to take it as a good sign. Some of the guys he faced over the weekend could be a year or two removed from the big leagues and he dominated them.

There’s a few points I’d really like to make on Jair Jurrjens, one’s that will highlight the purpose of this article. The first one being this. Jair Jurrjens is NOT a veteran starter. Maybe in Atlanta he’s considered a veteran because he’s on a staff where everyone else besides Hudson is younger then him but in reality he’s still a fairly young pitcher. In my opinion no pitcher under the age of 30 is considered a veteran and in some cases I think this could stretch up to as high as 31 or 32. Jurrjens is currently 26 years old and if he bounces back quickly from this down turn in his career he could easily have another 8-10 seasons left in him and I’ll explain why.

Velocity. Velocity. Velocity. That’s all we hear about with today’s young pitchers. Strausberg throws 98mph. Chapman can hit 105mph. That’s great. You can dominate hitters with an over powering fastball without question. And that’s why it’s the number one pitch for most pitchers. However when was the last time you saw Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux throwing 98? You never did. They were pitchers who could pitch. They threw the right pitches at the right time and located them perfectly.

Am I comparing Jair Jurrjens to future hall of fame pitchers? No. But I am however going to compare their styles of pitching. Velocity is down this year for Jurrjens. He’s throwing the ball in the low 90’s on a good day. He can’t blow that ball past big league hitters. If he leaves his fast ball up in the zone it’s going to land on top of someone’s car in the parking lot. He also has a change up and a slider that almost appears to be a “slurve” type pitch. Jurrjens relies on movement and location just like the two pitchers mentioned above. So can Jurrjens regain his composure and experience success at the big league level? Absolutely.

Jurrjens needs to get back to the basics. He needs to pitch to contact and not try and strike guys out. Pitching to contact will allow him to keep his pitch count down and go deeper into games which is exactly the kind of starter the Braves need right now. Would you rather have a guy on the mound who goes 5 innings throwing 98 or a guy who throws 90 and can get through 7 or 8 innings on a regular basis?

In tune with the pitching to contact Jurrjens needs to get more ground balls. When he first came up in the Majors he was getting a very high percentage of ground ball outs. However as the years have passed his ground ball to fly ball ratio has flip flopped. Up until getting sent to the Minors Jurrjens was getting about 60% of his outs via the fly ball, which was creating some issues. When the ball is continuously hit in the air there is a constant threat of home runs and extra base hits. When a pitcher keeps the ball on the ground he forces the opposing team to string several hits together just to push across a single run not to mention the ground ball can be a pitchers best friend as it creates the vast majority of double plays.

In 2009 Jurrjens went 14-10 with a 2.60era. In 2011 despite missing time at the end of the season he still managed to post a 13-6 record with a 2.96era. He has shown flashes of brilliance. Yes that’s a small sample size but it still can’t be completely over looked. The other thing to consider is that you need 5 guys to complete your rotation.

Currently Mike Minor is 2-2 with a 5.97era which isn’t exactly stellar and Randall Delgado is 2-2 with a 5.14era which again isn’t exactly top notch. No two starts isn’t enough to prove Jurrjens worthy of returning to the majors but you have to believe he’s well on his way, especially if the two above mentioned starters continue to struggle.

Jurrjens needs to trust his body and his instincts. He needs to locate his fast ball and chose his pitches wisely. He needs to get more ground balls in comparison to fly balls. If he can do these things then I suspect he’ll be a very good starter for the Braves as the summer months loom.

By: Bob McVinua

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