Today, we take a look at Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, whom many expected to gradually take the reins of leadership to a pitching staff that was a balanced blend of veterans, young rising stars, and rookies. Despite the fact that Jurrjens is more of a finesse pitcher, while Hanson is the prototypical power pitcher, unfortunately both of their seasons pretty much followed the same script: fantastic first halves of the season, followed by nagging injuries, resulting in plummeting numbers and ultimately early ends to their seasons. Although it was a thing of beauty seeing some of the Braves' youngsters accept the challenge and deliver some wonderful rookie performances, many of us are still left to wonder how the script may have differed had the team had their two young stallions assumed their scheduled starts instead.
|2011 - Jair Jurrjens||13-6||23||23||2||1||0||0||152.0||142||52||50||14||44||90||2.96||1.22|
Prior to the All-Star break, Jair Jurrjens was among the best pitchers in the Major Leagues. Heading into the break, Jair was leading the Major Leagues in wins with a 12-3 record, as well as a majors-best 1.87 ERA. Jurrjens notched his first complete game against the Padres on April 26th, and also a one-hit shutout of the Orioles on July 1st. He was averaging 6.2 innings a start during this time, and held 441 batters to a pedestrian .229/.276/.310 slash with a 1.066 WHIP. Such credentials also earned Jair Jurrjens a trip to Arizona, for his first-ever All-Star selection, where he retired five straight American League All-Stars in 1.2 innings of work.
Advanced statistics are rarely complementary to contact pitchers like Jair Jurrjens, but the fact of the matter was that what he was doing was working for him and the Braves, as the team was 12-4 in his 16 pre-ASG starts. Unfortunately, it was after the All-Star Game that Jurrjens' stellar season began to unravel.
Jair made just seven starts after the All-Star Game in which the Braves went 4-3, but Jurrjens himself just 1-3, with two trips to the disabled list, due to soreness to his right knee. Six of those starts saw earned runs; five of them with four or more, and four starts saw Jurrjens yielding home runs to the opposition. Overall, hitters were hitting Jair to the tune of a .301/.376/.571 line with a 1.645 WHIP, before he was ultimately deactivated for the remainder of the season, again due to right knee troubles.
It's easy to pinpoint the knee woes as Jurrjens' downfall for the season, because before it began flaring up, there really were few pitchers who gobbled up innings and breezed through lineups as efficiently as Jurrjens was doing. Overall, Jurrjens' numbers as a whole aren't terrible to look at due to the fantastic first half. A 13-6 record with a 2.96 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and an overall .249/.384/.384 slash line. Advanced stats reveal him pitching above his 3.99 FIP, and his skill-independent ERA was 4.43. It should be worth noting that Jurrjens was somewhat of a wizard at dealing with his base-runners, as he stranded a career best 81%. Starts like this should be pretty indicative of that.
Jair Jurrjens is the kind of pitcher that is often debated over by traditionalists and the sabr-minded. The old-school loves his fearless approach to allowing contact and letting hitters hit themselves out, while the new-age scoff at the low K/9 rates, BABIP, and that the luck will eventually, eventually, run out. Ultimately, when the day is over, the only thing matters is if the Braves win or not, and if Jair Jurrjens was a contributing factor or not. The interesting thing about Jair's peripherals is that in spite of the (Braves) career-low 5.33 K/9 rate and the poor finish to the season, Jurrjens still notched a career best 2.61 BB/9 and 2.05 K/BB ratio, as well as a respectable 0.83 HR/9 that was heavily skewed by the nine dingers in his last seven starts as opposed to the prior five in 16. 2011 Jurrjens allowed a career-high 22.2 batted balls per start versus a career-low 18.5 in 2010. Compared previous year, when he simply averaged more strikeouts and walks per nine, as far as the Braves' record was concerned, the 2011 Jair Jurrjens was more effective.
|2011 - Tommy Hanson||11-7||22||22||0||0||0||0||130.0||106||55||52||17||46||142||3.60||1.17|
The story of Tommy Hanson's 2011 was much of the same, with the exception of the style of pitching, and fairly blatantly being snubbed off of the National League's All-Star team. A dominant season prior to the All-Star game saw Tommy Hanson go 10-4 (team, 12-5) with a 2.44 ERA, while striking out 109 batters. 413 hitters were held to a minuscule .190/.264/.317 slash line while he struck out 9.5 per nine in these 17 starts which also saw a brief 15-day disabled list trip in mid-June.
Like Jair Jurrjens, almost immediately after the All-Star Game, things began to crumble for Tommy Hanson as well. He was actually striking out more batters in his last five starts at a 11.1 K/9 clip, but he was still simply allowing more hits (.313 batting average), they were finding places to land (.373 BABIP), and often for extra bases (17 XBH, 8 HR in five starts vs. 29 XBH, 9 HR in 17 prior starts). On August 6th, Tommy Hanson exited the game against the Mets after just 3.1 innings, yielding seven earned runs on eight hits, with four of those being home runs. The next day, he was placed on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, and did not pitch again for the remainder of the season.
Shoulder injuries are arguably as bad, if not worse than blowing out an elbow. At least with Tommy John Surgery, there's a fairly predictable rehabilitation timeframe before knowing whether or not a pitcher can go reliably, but with shoulder injuries, sometimes it's like constantly having to look over your shoulder at the chance that something painful could flare up again. It kind of goes without saying that Hanson was affected by his own shoulder troubles; one only has to look at his general velocity throughout the year which saw all of his primary pitches down on average of 1-3 mph across the board.
It's painfully evident when Hanson's shoulder began flaring up because pretty much all across his entire stat sheet, everything took a negative turn in July. Most notably were the decrease in groundball percentage, and the uptick in line drive percentage. The funny thing is that the strikeouts and walks weren't really impacted during this time, but if you were to look at the sheer volume of pitches, strikes versus balls, thrown in July, it looked to appear as if batters were more capable of fouling off pitches and staying alive against Hanson, forcing him to exert himself further. Basically, hitters were a little too capable of fighting with Hanson before either striking out, or hitting line drives, during his grueling July.
I want to say there are concerns for his sheer swing-and-miss stuff, but considering there was evident shoulder troubles, I'll err on the side of saying such woes will correct themselves when Tommy Hanson is back to being fully healthy again. Regardless, I still think Hanson is a little bit too reliant on the strikeout, and would not mind seeing him actually go beyond six innings, let alone seven on a more consistent basis in the future. In 2011, Hanson managed seven seven-inning outings, but no more than that; exactly half of his 22 starts saw Tommy make at least 100 pitches.
It's also worth noting that it's no secret that base runners like to run on Tommy Hanson, but in 2011, he was on pace for a career-worst 47 steals allowed; his starts saw an average of over one batter stealing on him, as opposed to one or less in his two prior years.
Regardless of it all though, Tommy Hanson will still be just 25 entering the 2012 season, and there's no reason to believe that there's still no time for him to develop and grow into the ace pitcher we all hope he'll become. Like Jurrjens, in spite of the poor finish to the 2011 season, his overall numbers aren't at all that bad. An 11-7 record with a 3.60 ERA, striking out 142 batters in just 130.0 innings, leading to a career best 9.83 K/9 rate. His walks increased a little to 3.18 BB/9, but since he was striking out so many, his K/BB still remains unchanged from the year prior at 3.09. And since he's a sweet strikeout pitcher, his 3.67 FIP and 3.63 SIERA sync up pretty well with his ERA. Overall, he still held batters to a wimpy .219/.289/.390, with a 1.169 WHIP, and lefties not faring that much better against him.
Going into the offseason, there was a lot of speculation from many of us authors, as well as many Braves fans making educated guesses, that one of these two young stallions was going to be traded. With the glut of starting pitching talent waiting in the wings in the forms of Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Mike Minor, and a combination of concerns involving arbitration-related salary raises and/or the involvement of agent Scott Boras, who represents both Jurrjens and Hanson, many felt that the potential that both harness could justify preemptively moving one of them before they commanded high(er) salaries.
However, I have to imagine with the successful (albeit a little expensive) moving of the Sisyphus' boulder known as Derek Lowe's contract, may put a halt on such notions, at least until mid-season. $5 million dollars is alleviated in the transaction, which may help cover the arb-2 raise that Jurrjens is due, not to mention what may or may not happen with the status of Tommy Hanson and his not-Super-Two status. If anything at all, this increases the chance that both Jurrjens and Hanson will start the 2012 season as Braves, to hopefully quell any suitors' concerns that they are injury risks, before one may potentially be traded, and then replaced by one of the Four Horsemen.