Heading into the season, the Braves’ only concern about Jair Jurrjens was whether or not his surgically repaired right knee would hold up enough to last him the entire season. He was coming off a season where he went 13-6 with a 2.96 ERA, earning his first All-Star appearance.
However, just four starts into the season it became apparent that Jurrjens’ injury was the least of his concerns. During April, Jurrjens went 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA in 16.1 IP. That included a .411 batting average against, 2.45 WHIP and more walks (10) than strikeouts (8).
While his demotion did not yield immediate results (he was 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett), the Braves needed a veteran starter to take the place of Brandon Beachy, whose season ended when it was determined he needed Tommy John Surgery. So after 10 minor league starts, Jurrjens was back in the major leagues.
In four starts since then, Jurrjens is 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 25.1 IP. He has held opponents to a .245 batting average against, 1.14 WHIP with 10 strikeouts and 5 walks.
At the time of his demotion, the Braves’ front office felt that Jurrjens struggles were tied to a decrease in velocity from last season. However, his fastball (88.8 mph), changeup (82.3 mph) and slider (78.1 mph) velocities since he was recalled are almost identical to what they were before (88.4 mph, 82.5 mph, 77.7 mph, respectively).
This means that Jurrjens’ lack of success was as a result of something else, like poor pitch location. His pitch location can be expressed in the following graphs (from Fangraphs.com):
Jair Jurrjens 4/23/12 against the Los Angeles Dodgers (Loss): 3 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 0 K
Jair Jurrjens 6/22/12 against the Boston Red Sox (Win): 7.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
Click on the images to make them larger
Against the Dodgers, Jurrjens left too many fastballs and changeups down the middle of the plate, while missing out of the strike zone with the majority of his sliders. Against the Red Sox, Jurrjens threw his fastballs and changeups on the inner-half the strike zone, while keeping his sliders in the strike zone.
Because Jurrjens does not possess the stuff to make hitters miss, he needs to be smart about the placement of his pitches. If last season is any indication, he has the ability to do that over the course of an entire season.
Only time will tell if he is able to keep up this success, but if he does so, he will be a integral part of the Braves’ rotation down the stretch.