Tonight Jair Jurrjens takes the hill against Barry Zito of the West leading Giants in a test of whether the recent winning streak is an indication of an improvement in consistency or of the result of weak opposition. JJ has had a rough year to put it mildly but in yesterday’s blog over at the AJC, Carroll Rogers says it appears Jair Jurrjens has turned the corner and is well on his road back to peak form. That would be really great news for the Braves as they head down the stretch. A healthy, first half 2011 Jurrjens would be a significant addition to our beleaguered rotation. I watched the same games she watched and I’m not as convinced but I’ve been wrong before so I thought I’d try to get an objective view. Thus instead of working I’m writing this.
While laying out the story of his return to form Ms Rogers told of a chat between JJ and John Smoltz when Smoltzie visited Gwinnett for a book signing. Following that chat and a heart to heart with his pitching coach JJ’s attitude improved, he stopped beating himself up and worrying about every slight misstep and began to concentrate on the big picture. As a result he’s a more confident pitcher and he has been successful since being recalled . In his four starts he’s 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA and a 1.145 WHIP in 25 1/3 innings while allowing one home run, walking five while striking out 10. Those numbers are good considering his start to the year but they aren’t near the kind of numbers he was throwing up last year. Most realize those numbers weren’t likely to be his annual norm but his projection was as a top of the rotation kind of guy. His velocity has been 88-89 since early last year so that projection isn’t reality anymore. Yet this quote seemed to say that might change.
|“Jurrjens’ results are markedly better, his velocity is up a few notches. . . .|
Velocity isn’t nearly as important as pitch location and movement but I haven’t seen any up-tick so I wandered over to check the Pitch F/X data from his recent starts. To get an idea where he stands I compared them to about the same number of pitches from this time last year; his great first half.
Let’s Go To The Books
As I suspected the data didn’t indicate any up-tick in his velocity from earlier this or or come to that from his career numbers in 2011. Here’s a look at data on pitch selection and velocity side by side.
|Pitch Selection & Velocity ||% of pitches thrown||Velocity|
|4 seam FB||28.3%||41.7%||13.4%||89.3||88.7||-0.6|
|2 Seam FB||28.3%||6.3%||-22.0%||89.1||88.6||-0.5|
As you can see velocity on all pitches is down slightly but not significantly from his dominant performances of 2011. So now what? On Texas Leaguers you not only get pitch f/x data but you can see quickly what hitters did. Remember this is a small sample of four games so not every incident has a value. For example in 2011 he didn’t give up a home run during that time this year he’s given up one.
|Grounded Into DP||1.32%||1.32%|
What struck me was the decrease in strikeouts and ground outs with matching increases in singles and doubles. Home runs happen but singles and doubles build rallies. While his walk rate is about what it was the K rate drop tells me they’re making more contact. Pitching to contact is not a bad thing, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux made a career of it. Unfortunately JJ has not yet become as adept as those two future Hall of Famers and his pitch results reflect that.
The red numbers tell a story.
- 4 seamer: Fewer whiffs and fouls and more balls in play indicates the hitters as seeing his fastball better.
- 2 seamer: Almost unused, his sinker isn’t as deceptive as it needs to be; the sinker lacks sink.
- Change up: Used more often along with 4 seamer when he would have used a sinker last year. Still effective for him in spite of a narrow 6mph differential between it and the fastball..
- His slider is being used a little more but it’s been a strike a lot more so while the whiff rate is up the big jump is seen in balls in play.
All of this translates to an increase of hitters BAbip from .211 last year to .247 this year. This amounts to about 4 hits in 100 at bats.
That’s A Wrap
After going through all the numbers in this small sample size it’s really not possible to be certain whether JJ’s return to form is real. What we can say is that if this is as good as it gets it isn’t good enough to be considered a top level starter. He told Carroll Rogers that he’s working extra hard developing his leg strength so he can drop and drive with more power. That work should give him staying power and he’s gone deeper into games since his return. It can also allow him to maintain the 88-89 mph fastball without ruining his arm. He’s been a bit lucky with BAbip as many of the balls hit have been hard and right at a defender or brought a good defensive play out of an outfielder. He’s a finesse pitcher now and in order to be successful as that guy he must regain the pinpoint location and movement he had last year. At 26 Jurrjens is still a young man, I hope he masters this new program and finds his location magic again. The Braves need performances like those that sparkled last year and a successful Jair Jurrjens in the second half.