Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens was good in 2009, but was he really a whole run better -- as he ERA from last year (3.68) to this year (2.60) showed? There are many Braves fans who are ready to anoint Jurrjens as the next in the great line of Braves starters, but to borrow a phrase from Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend."
Jurrjens certainly was a joy to watch in 2009, but aside from a tad bit more maturity and a little bit more durability, he was the same pitcher that toed the mound in 2008. While his ERA was over a run better than the previous year (as mentioned above), his FIP in 2009 (3.68) was worse than it was in 2008 (3.59). By those standards, Jurrjens was just a lot luckier this year. His strikeout and walk rates were virtually unchanged, his double play rate was the same, just about all of his rate stats were unchanged except his ratio of ground balls to fly balls allowed.
If there was an improvement in Jurrjens game in his second full year in the majors, it was that he seemed to learn to pitch to contact better and turn more of his batted balls into outs. He went from having a .307 BAbip in 2008 to a .274 BAbip last year. We could chalk this up to luck, but we could also say that Jurrjens was simply better at getting batters to hit the ball where he wanted them to, and part of that could have been pitching to more fly balls than ground balls.
So Jurrjens wasn't as good as his numbers say he was. He was a lot luckier than the year before, or in 2008 perhaps he just had a whole lot of bad luck. If we take that approach then the real Jair Jurrjens is probably somewhere between his 2008 and 2009 numbers. Keep in mind that he pitched in 3 more games, had 8 more quality starts, and pitched almost 27 more innings between last year and this year. Regardless of the glaring increase in his FIP, perhaps his increasing ability to pitch to contact successfully will continue in the coming years, but the odds are that we shouldn't be surprised if we see Jurrjens put up numbers that are closer to his 2008 numbers next season.
I'm all for riding the Jurrjens' Surgeons band wagon, and I'll enjoy the ride while it lasts, but keep in mind that he may be pulling something similar, though not as extreme, as what Jorge Houdini did in 2005. To continue his success, Jurrjens must continue to be a guy who pitches to contact effectively, and that can be a tough path to follow (unless your name is Greg Maddux).