Here’s a scary stat: Jair Jurrjens has given up more homeruns this season than Livan Hernandez and Chad Durbin combined, and he’s pitched 1.2 fewer innings. In his last start, JJ got pulled after just fifty pitches, and then got a free ride to Gwinnett.
Last season, before the All-Star break, if you told me that after four starts this season JJ would have no wins and a 9.37 ERA, I would have called you nuts. For half of 2011, Jair was white hot, almost unhittable at times, and he carried a league-leading ERA into the All-Star break.
Now his velocity is down, his breaking pitches don’t have the same bite as before, and he just looks uncomfortable on the mound. I have to ask: Does JJ have Steve Blass Disease?
For anyone who doesn’t know, Steve Blass Disease (SBD) is a label used to describe a pitcher who experiences a sudden and unexplained loss of the ability to pitch. It happened famously to Steve Blass in the early seventies. If you don’t remember that far back, think Mark Wohlers and his epic, sudden demise. Some say that SBD is just a psychological problem that pitchers who suddenly can’t seem to pitch are just over thinking. (Maybe it’s like Dizzy Dean said, “The dumber a pitcher is, the better.”) However, most players diagnosed with SBD never return to form. Rick Ankiel is an interesting exception, because he returned to the big leagues as an outfielder after coming down with a bad case of SBD.
While JJ has certainly struggled this season, I find it hard to diagnose him with SBD (yet), mostly because he is so young. Because he’s been with our club for six years now, it’s easy to forget that he’s just 26 years old. It’s just as likely that JJ’s current issues are just a bump in the road, a pothole on his path to his prime. Maybe a Triple A stint is exactly what he needs to refocus, perhaps make some mechanical adjustments before returning to the Majors. However, if he flounders in the Minors, or doesn’t show significant improvement when he rejoins the Braves, he might be an SBDer. In that case, I think it would be best to unload him in any way possible.
To be clear, I have nothing against JJ. In fact, I think he’s a great player, and I really hope he gets over this hump in time to resurrect his season. The best sign for JJ is his off-field attitude. After his last start (but before being told he’d be sent to the minors) he said to the press, “I’m not a quitter… I’m just going to keep fighting.” And that’s exactly the attitude he needs to have if he is going to be successful as a Brave.
We are lucky enough to have a wealth of pitching, especially with Tim Hudson returning to the rotation to fill in for JJ. Also, JJ’s Triple A assignment means more Major league action for Delgado, who most people assumed would be sent to Gwinnett when Hudson returned.
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