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Atlanta Braves: Is It Already Time to Cut Bait with Jair Jurrjens?

ATLANTA - APRIL 18: Jair Jurrjens #49 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the New York Mets at Turner Field on April 18, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Foster LanderContributor IIIApril 24, 2012

I had an entire piece written about how the Atlanta Braves should give Jair Jurrjens a few extra starts to try to figure things out, and I thought it sounded pretty convincing.

Sadly, that went in the trash when Atlanta announced Jurrjens had been optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett after another sub-par performance (3.0 IP, 9 H, 5 ER) that raised his season ERA to 9.37.

It’s a smart move.

When Jurrjens made his debut with the Braves in 2008, his average fastball velocity was 91.9 mph. So far in 2012, it’s 88.1—almost a full four-mph drop.

Of course, Jurrjens began using a two-seam fastball with tailing action before last season and knowingly traded some velocity for movement.

What’s more concerning about his first three starts in 2012, however, is Jurrjens’ inability to locate his fastball and hit spots.

I’m stating the obvious here, but pitchers who only throw 88 must be precise with their location—especially the fastball—and should be able to throw several pitches for strikes in any count.

It was fair to assume entering the 2012 season that Jurrjens would suffer a drop-off in his performance, based on his peripherals from previous years.

Jurrjens’ career K/9 ratio (a solid indicator of how sustainable a pitcher’s success is) of 6.14 is solid, if not unspectacular. However, that ratio fell to 5.33 in 2011 and 5.40 thus far in 2012.

Thanks to a low BB/9 ratio (2.61) in 2011, Jurrjens was one of baseball’s better pitchers before the All-Star break. However, his FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching, which adjusts a pitcher’s ERA based upon team defense and other variable factors) of 3.99 suggested that he was pitching above what should reasonably be expected.

So, what do the Braves do with the 27-year-old right-hander?

They already took care of part one—send him to the minors to work on his mechanics with less pressure and regain confidence. Step two?

Bring him right back up.

I know, I know—a 9.37 ERA won’t have Braves fans clamoring for his return.

His ERA (through only 13.1 IP, mind you) doesn’t even begin to tell the story.

When hitters are putting the ball in play off Jurrjens, they’re hitting .356. League average typically hovers between .290 and .300 (Jurrjens’ career BABIP against is .282).

What does this mean? Jair should—should—start seeing some of those hits turn into outs.

He’ll have to lower that ugly statistic of more than six BB/9, and reduce his HR/9 (3.38 in 2012), but it’s early.

Once Jair Jurrjens rediscovers his mechanics and can locate his two-seam and his changeup—which has been an effective pitch for Jurrjens in the past—the "Curacao Kid" will be fine.

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