Jurrjens demotion shocking, but no reason to doubt Braves' decisions
The Braves made a surprising call to demote Jair Jurrjens to Triple-A, but their history of right decisions with pitchers gives them leeway.
The demotion of Braves starter Jair Jurrjens is at first blush quite the stunner. He was a candidate to start the All-Star Game last year when he was 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA.
He's put in four good years and had four bad starts. He isn't exactly Mark Melancon giving up a home run seemingly every other at-bat.
But today, he is at Triple-A Gwinnett. And I'm going to trust this isn't some emotional decision after a rough two weeks. There is, in fact, ample reason to trust that the Braves are doing the right thing. And here's why:
--The Braves know pitching. Everyone knows this, and that may be why it's hard for them to trade pitchers now after always seeming to trade the right ones. (They tried to trade Jurrjens in the spring but the offers weren't what they wanted);
--The Braves have pitchers. No team has more depth than Atlanta, and with Tim Hudson targeted to return Sunday, someone had to leave the rotation. It may as well have been the pitcher who was struggling the most. Jurrjens may not be Melancon, but he is 0-2 with a 9.37 ERA, and he's allowed 30 hits, five homers and 10 walks in 16 1/3 innings. That's demotion worthy;
--The Braves are no dummies (even beyond pitching). Little known stat: Over the past three years, only one team has spent less money and won more games than the Braves, and that is the Rays (the Rangers have won more games but spent slightly more money). The Braves' payroll has remained almost exactly $90 million the past six years, which is unheard of, and yet they've remained perennial winners.
--The Braves are no dummies, Part II. No one has acquired viable, useful players in more ways than the Braves. Brandon Beachy is as good a story as there is. After Beachy was passed over in the amateur draft, Braves scout Gene Kerns happened to see him come out of an infield position to throw one inning in a summer league game, showing a 91-93 mph fastball and dynamic breaking ball, and Kerns basically signed him on the spot for $20,000. The Braves utilized three waiver wire pickups on Eric O'Flaherty (from the Mariners), Cristhian Martinez (Marlins) and Anthony Varvaro (Mariners again), spending twenty grand apiece on three pitchers who gave them close to 200 innings total with a sub 3 ERA total, numbers that might cost $15 million if they were accomplished by one starter. Star set-up man Jonny Venters was a 30th-round draft choice, starter Tommy Hanson a 22nd-round draft pick.
Jurrjens, acquired in a very good trade for Edgar Renteria, slipped a bit in the second half last year when a knee injury bothered him. But it was nothing like this. (With the exception of the Mark Teixeira trade, where the Braves gave up too much, almost all their trades have been ties or wins).
"Since the season began he hasn't been able to get over the hump and make the pitches he's capable of making,'' Braves GM Frank Wren said by phone. "At this level you don't have the same leeway. I think he might have gotten into some bad habits because of the injury. There's no issue with the knee. But it's just a matter of going out, trusting yourself and getting back to pitching the way he has in the past.''
The Braves are hopeful he can straighten things out in the minors.
"His velocity is the same it was last year. He was up to 91 mph last night. It's a matter of making quality pitches,'' Wren said. "We think it's mechanical, and that we can get it worked out and get him back up here. He was disappointed. But I think he's pretty realistic. He's a smart guy. He needs to get things figured out. Right now things aren't working.''
That sounds like pretty sound logic for a surprising situation.