Rumor Mill: Jair Jurrjens


According to an entry on MLB Trade Rumors, the Royals have been in discussion with the Braves about starter Jair Jurrjens. What the post suggests is that Atlanta, unsure of if they’ll be able to resign Michael Bourn or not and with a glut of starting pitching, are looking at Wil Myers or Lorenzo Cain.

The sense is that if there’s any inclusion of Myers’s name in these discussions, it’s coming from the Atlanta camp. So far these are mere rumors and they haven’t picked up much steam yet, but as teams begin to sign free agents in the coming days and weeks, starting pitching will surface in trade talks.

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the Royals were pursuing Jurrjens. What kind of pitcher would they have on their radar?

Jurrjens is a 25-year-old starter from Curacao, signed by the Tigers and traded to the Braves in 2007. Over the span of his major league career, he’s put up impressive numbers with a 3.40 ERA over 702.1 innings in 115 starts. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year race in 2008 in the National League and a strong first half of 2011 earned him a spot on the NL All-Star team. He made $3.25 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

Despite all of that, he has his share of question marks. He’s had hamstring, knee and other issues – nothing catastrophic but enough of the little nagging injuries that damper his production and durability. Also, he’s had reported drops in velocity. From 2008 through 2010, he kept his fastball at an average velocity between 91 and 92 mph. In 2011, that measurement dropped to 89 mph. That could suggest some issues with his delivery or timing problems over the course of the year, but it’s also a signal that gets teams looking at potential injuries as the cause.

When healthy, Jurrjens shows good, but not great control. He has struck out batters at a reasonable rate in the past, but in 2011, despite a nice looking stat line, he struck out just 5.3 batters per nine innings. That’s a number that just can’t sustain success in today’s game. You have to miss bats.

That’s another concern – Jurrjens isn’t missing bats. In 2010, when swinging, batters missed 8.9% of Jurrjens’s pitches. That number fell to 7.4% in 2011. That seems small, but he’s among the top five such declining pitchers, according to FanGraphs.

Yes, Jurrjens put up 152 innings of sub-3.00 ERA pitching, but when adjusting for batted balls and the defense behind him, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) amounted to 3.99. Adjusting for a league average homerun rate, and his xFIP jumped to 4.23.

Does Jurrjens have talent? Would he improve the Royals rotation? Absolutely. He’s young, relatively cheap (monetarily) and could put things together and be a #2 starter (though more likely a strong #3). More likely, though, he’ll regress from last season’s strong ERA, and a shift from the NL to the AL generally hurts a pitcher, too.

As for trading Myers for Jurrjens, this is just too high of a price. After the promotions of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and others, Myers is arguably the Royals top prospect, and among high-ceiling prospects who are getting close to the majors, he’s the frontrunner. He’s not guarantee for immediate success, as his off-year in Northwest Arkansas demonstrates, but his upside is such that he could draw a much better pitcher than just Jair Jurrjens. It’s just too costly for the Royals.

If they can get Jurrjens for a lesser prospect, by all means, do it.

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