Thoughts On The Braves Demotion Of Jair Jurrjens

Something is not right with Jair Jurrjens.

After yesterday's loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves demoted starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens to triple-A Gwinnett. This was the right move.

Jurrjens hasn't made it past the fifth inning in any of his four starts. He's given up at least seven hits and three runs in every start. The only reason his record is 0-and-2 and not 0-and-4 is because the Braves put up double digit runs in two of his four starts.

The symptoms are clear, Jurrjens' velocity is down, his command is off, and his confidence is non-existent. The Braves hope the cure can be some low-pressure starts in triple-A to help repair what's broken.

But can a handful of starts in the minors fix everything that's wrong with Jair Jurrjens? He's missing his spots with pitches, and that is part of his problem, but velocity -- which used to be a big part of his game -- has failed him. This chart from FanGraphs illustrates the drop in velocity that Jurrjens experienced last year, which has carried over into this season (click image to enlarge):

Jair-velo_medium

The decline in velocity is clear and startling. He was able to use some of his guile and deception in the first half of last season, but in the second half his ability to reach into the mid-90's for a fastball had disappeared. With his velocity drop has come a corresponding drop in strikeouts per nine innings -- 6.65 in 2010, 5.33 in 2011, 4.41 in 2012.

Jurrjens has also proven to be a pitcher reliant on luck and good defense. This is highlighted by his xFIP numbers the last three seasons:

Year ERA xFIP
2009 2.60 4.28
2010 4.64 4.29
2011 2.96 4.23

This type of xFIP is not necessarily a bad thing. Jurrjens is simply the kind of pitcher who relies on his defense, but he's also the type of pitcher who will get into a lot of jams and needs to be able to get himself out of those jams. In the past he's been able to get himself out of jams by turning up the dial on his fastball -- as the chart above shows. He could run his fastball up to 94mph or higher in his starts prior to the 2011 season. He could reach back for 93mph last season, but in the latter part of last season and on into this season, he hasn't been able to reach back for that extra gear on his fastball. He's lost his fastball as a weapon in his arsenal.

His ERA after the All-Star break was 5.88, and remember he was an All-Star, who had a MLB-best first half ERA of 1.87. There's no quantifying this year's ERA (9.37), as Jurrjens has been a complete mess on the mound.

So is it just his fastball, or is there something else. Is this the worst case scenario of the kind of pitcher many people thought Jurrjens was all along? Or are Jair's problems mostly mental, spawned from his hesitance to put full pressure on a knee that he might believe is not fully healthy. Could it be the shoulder that cut his 2010 season short, which was preceded by a drop in velocity that he hasn't been able to rebound from?

It seems that even Jair Jurrjens doesn't know what is wrong with him. But at triple-A he'll have the time he needs to work through some of these issues, and try and get back to the pitcher who could at least use his defense to manage most of his outs ... and we'll see if he can once again be that pitcher who is able to reach back for some extra mustard on his fastball when he needs it.

As for the Braves, THIS is what starting pitching depth is all about. Pitchers have problems and need fixing. Pitchers get injured. The Braves will replace the pitcher that needs fixing (Jurrjens) with the pitcher that was injured (Tim Hudson), and yet there is still good starting pitching depth in the organization. Should Jurrjens fix his problems, the Braves can move him back into the Major League rotation, and give their rookie (Randall Delgado) more seasoning in the minors.

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