Jair Jurrjens: Slower Fastball, Better Results?

Jair Jurrjens is having a great year so far. Obviously, he is getting lucky as he doesn’t have the talent of his league-leading 1.51 ERA. Still, his xFIP of 3.47 is considerably better than his career xFIP of 4.22. This is largely thanks to a big drop in walks, from his career rate of 3.24 to just 1.51 this year. This success is even more striking because his fastball is 1.5 mph slower than he has previously thrown it — usually not a sign of improvement.

Carroll Rogers reported that Jurrjens, 25, picked up a new grip on his two-seam fastball from Jonny Venters, and has been using it since his April 16th start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the velocity is down on both his two-seam fastball, from 91.4 mph to 89.4 mph, and his four-seam fastball, from 91.4 mph to 89.7 mph. So I don’t think the change in two-seam grip is responsible for the slower fastballs. He is throwing his two-seam fastball at about the same frequency as he has previously.

Year Two-Seam Fastball Four-Seam Fastball Slider Changeup
2007 36.1% 23.5% 20.1% 20.3%
2008 34.5% 27.0% 11.6% 27.0%
2009 34.1% 27.1% 14.7% 24.2%
2010 32.5% 29.2% 15.7% 22.6%
2011 35.6% 23.5% 17.7% 23.2%

The slower fastballs have resulted in more contact — from a previous rate of 80.9% to 85.6% this year — and thus fewer strikeouts. But he is getting more swings out of the zone and fewer swings in the zone. That leads to more weak contact and fewer walks. It is possible that his slower fastball allows him to better locate just out of the zone to get this out-of-zone swings.

The most striking difference I see is in three-ball counts. Before this year Jurrjens got to three-ball counts in 18% of his batters faced, and then walked the batter in 46% of those at-bats. This year he goes to three balls in 15% of his at-bats. If that were the only difference he would have just a modest drop in walks. But now he walks the batter in just 28% of those three-ball at-bats. Here are the locations of his fastballs to RHBs in three-ball counts in 2010 compared to 2011:

and here to LHBs.

Jurrjens’ three-balls fastballs have been in and around the zone much more in 2011 than 2010 (and other years). This could just be noise, but it might be that with a slower fastball Jurrjens is better able to get the ball in the zone when he needs to.

So, thus far into the season, Jurrjens has succeded partially on BABIP and HR/FB luck, and partially by limiting walks when he gets to three-balls counts. Just because his xFIP has been 3.47 doesn’t mean he will keep it that low, or that he will keep his walk rate that low. But Jurrjens offers an interesting example of a guy who gave up velocity on his fastball and may have improved while doing so.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


35 Responses to “Jair Jurrjens: Slower Fastball, Better Results?”

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  1. Scott says:

    Jurrjens is an interesting watch and see guy. if he can keep his walks down he’s a great pitcher.

    I’m not a fan of xFIP myself, I do think that in general a pitcher based on changing speeds, consistency with breaking pitches, etc. can control how hard flyballs are hit.

    Right now Jurrjens is looking like a Poorman’s Greg Maddux, smart pitcher who can pitch to weak contact. I’ve watched pretty much every start he’s mad e and he just keeps getting weak contact.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      You are correct that some pitchers can maintain a below average HR/FB over long samples (Cliff Lee since his reinvention, Mariano Rivera). Jurrjens’ is at 7% after 600 innings, so maybe he can as well.

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  2. BabyGoatEater says:

    This same type article always seems to come up at some point in every non-injury Jurrjens season.

    I especially love how these type quotes pop up all the time:

    “Obviously, he is getting lucky as he doesn’t have the talent of his league-leading 1.51 ERA.”

    At some point, albight not with such a small sample size, you have to just assume the metric you are using to quantify his performance isn’t valid with a pitcher of his style. The guy pitches to contact. Has said so many times. His coaches/managers praise his ability to do just that. He wont have good peripherals. Advanced stats can’t pick up on everything, we all know this.

    Still a nice article comparing his career trends.

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    • Everett says:

      Saying that he doesn’t have the talent of a 1.51 ERA isn’t exactly an insult. How many pitchers in the last 20 years have had that kind of talent? Clearly Jurrjens is due for some recession back to the 3 range, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’d still make him a very good pitcher.

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      • BabyGoatEater says:

        I agree, it is not an insult.

        but, when’s the last tine you saw an article on him that says “Obviously he is a much better pitcher than his stats show in this injury plagued year. He will revert back to his 2.5-2.8 ERA ways”

        Never. Usually if anyone even thinks to write about him, it has quotes along the lines of: “and here it is, proof that JJ is not nearly as good a pitcher as his results last year would indicate”

        venting. probably wrong target.

        The guy is a low top-tier pitcher.

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    • Blue says:

      Here’s an interesting thing about JJ…when I ran my initial LIMA screens this offseason, he was on the bubble. When I switched from a K/9 approach to a K/Batters Faced approach, he skyrocketed up my list.

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  3. Antonio Bananas says:

    lol ahhh you guys. Jurrjens is good, really good. He’s young and smart. Like a guy up a bit said, a poor man’s Greg Maddux. He throws a slower fastball to hit his spots and get ahead. Then he can throw it 3MPH faster and it surprises guys. Yea he’s not 1.whatever ERA good, but who is? I can see him with a 2.75. The FIP shit always penalizes contact pitchers. It’s another stupid statistic that thinks it’s getting to the bottom of things but really it’s not taking into account where the contact was made or what pitch. If a guy is outperforming his FIP, but he’s consistently locating down in the zone, wouldn’t that indicate he’s just a good contact pitcher?

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    • Dave Allen says:

      The FIP shit always penalizes contact pitchers

      I would love to see evidence for this claim.

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      • Adam says:

        Not trying to sound like a smartass, but it is in the name. Fielding independent pitching is a measure of how well a pitcher controls balls that aren’t put into play. So naturally any pitcher who pitches to contact would have a higher FIP because they don’t rely on factors like strikeouts to get outs. Its just the nature of the statistic.

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      • Dave Allen says:

        Is there any evidence that pitch-to-contact pitchers get more field-able balls in play than other pitchers?

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        The successful ones. Just like the better K pitchers have a lower ERA, the better contact pitchers will have more weakly hit balls. Tim Hudson was the same way last year. It was like August and people were like “look at his FIP, he’s due for regression”. Nope, just a good contact pitcher.

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      • B says:

        Umm last I checked Tim Hudson has regressed to his norms this year, so I can’t really see how the people who pointed that out were wrong. He has regressed after his fluke season lat year.

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      • NEPP says:

        Sample size is always important. Having a fluke couple of months is very possible…doing it over a season happens all the time. Doing it consistently over many years…not bloody likely.

        Jurrjens is a very good pitcher…he’s probably just not historically good is all. That’s no insult at all.

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      • Antonio Banans says:

        Tim Hudson isn’t “regressing” he’s getting old. He performed well ALL YEAR last year. This year he’s older. I’m really surprised FIP is held as highly as it is. It has a ton of holes in it. If you’re evaluating a guy like Jobber Chamberlain, then yea it’s probably a great stat, but not for contact pitchers.

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  4. chongo says:

    I have been dropping him for years, at the behest of the peripheral stats and predictions; always, one of my competitors picks Jurrjens up and wails away with him. NEVER again. The guy must be “good” finally.

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  5. ChuckO says:

    By all accounts, Jurrjens is an intelligent pitcher, and he seems to apply that intelligence to his pitching. As Scott and Antonio said above, he really seems to be becoming a poor man’s Greg Maddux. One thing that I’ve noticed and that the Braves’ announcers have pointed out as well is that, by giving up a bit of velocity, he’s improved his control. This season he seems to be able to put his pitches on a dime. If he can maintain that kind of command, he can be a d@mn good pitcher, even if he doesn’t have the best stuff.

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    • B says:

      lol Brian Bannister wishes that being an intelligent led to the ability to outpitch their peripherals.

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      • SSO says:

        What the hell does Brian Bannister have to do with this? JJ is much better pitcher than him. He’s has changed his approach & it’s working. Sounds like something a intelligent pitcher would do.

        A. Bananas was right about Hudson, people said he’d regress during last season & he did not. He’s doing fine this year as well. Last year wasn’t even his best season. He’s been a good pitcher for a over a decade, no fluke.

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  6. This Guy says:

    Ah, Jurrjens impressive ERA-xFIP, Dave Cameron’s second favorite topic behind the Giants HR/FB rate

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  7. majorkong says:

    IMO the Maddux comp is silly. He’s got to improve significantly in every facet to get there. He’s Derek Lowe-lite thus far in his career, IMO. More walks, fewer grounders. If his elite walk rate in 2011 is 100% real then that’s one thing. But I’m betting he regresses back to 3+BB/9 at which point he can pitch to contact all he wants and be a serviceable #3/4.

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    • Temo says:

      Yes, but if you actually watch him he pitches more like Maddux and not very much at all like Lowe.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Not only that but he’s just 25. You know what Lowe was doing at 25? Under 200IP and an ERA near 5. Jurrjens is very good. Stats people discredit him because he doesn’t show up well on their silly statistics that love strikeouts too much. I’ll take a contact pitcher anyday because they’re smart and when their stuff dwindles, can still get guys out.

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    • NEPP says:

      I think people forget just how amazing Maddux was when they make comparisons like that. If anything, Roy Halladay is a poor man’s Greg Maddux. Maddux was one of the greatest RHP of the live ball era and an inner circle HoF pitcher.

      I’m not even a Braves fan but the guy was ridiculous.

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      • Temo says:

        As someone said below, Tim Hudson might be the better comp for Jurrjens, in terms of style of pitching.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Okay, so maybe he’s a homeless man’s Greg Maddux. I think we just mean that he doesn’t have overpowering stuff but he using intelligents and control to pitch to contact to get outs.

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  8. Snowman says:

    No matter to what you want to give the attribution, the simple fact of the matter is that he has now pitched 616 big league innings in his career with a 3.30 ERA and a 3.75 xFIP. There are always some pitchers who consistently outperform their DIPS peripherals, and he is getting up to an innings total at which it is becoming absolutely fair to think he is one of those pitchers.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Yeah Jurrjens might be one of those guys who can out preform his fielding independent numbers. Quick correction, Jurrjens’ career FIP is 3.75, his career xFIP is 4.14. FIP will do a better job with Jurrjens than xFIP if his true talent HR/FB is below average as it has been through his career.

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    • majorkong says:

      Why is 616 innings enough? Variance is huge, and you get into trouble when you cherry pick outliers and say it’s real every time.

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      • majorkong says:

        I’m not saying one way or the other because I haven’t done the math, but this “FIP underrepresents good contact pitchers” idea could easily be selection bias. Guys with low K-rates that happen to have higher ERAs than FIPs likely don’t stick too long. Whereas guys that string together some ERAs lower than their FIPs get to stick around long enough to become guys we can point to. Guys with high K-rates and bad results likely get a longer leash.

        Obviously good pitch-to-contact guys can succeed. Lowe, Hudson, etc. are quality MLB pitchers and I doubt anyone would argue otherwise. But they aren’t Greg Maddux, and neither is Jurrjens.

        Jurrjens is the #4 guy in the Braves rotation, and he’d be a solid #3 for a lot of teams. If he can somehow maintain this ability to never throw balls in 3-ball counts, then he’s got #2/fringe #1 upside. But I bet the elite walk rate this year is mostly noise, and at 3BB/9 he’s a #3/4 guy.

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  9. Temo says:

    I’m curious where you got the pitch selection stats from. They don’t match up to the Pitch F/X data available on this site.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Sorry should have said. Those are my reclassifications of the pitchf/x data. Since they change how pitches are classified year-to-year, they are not great for comparing across years. For example they say Jurrjens never threw a two-seam fastball before 2010, but that is because the pitchf/x classifier didn’t have two-seam fastballs in it before that not because Jurrjens never threw them.

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  10. Phantom Stranger says:

    Having watched his entire career, his approach is definitely different this season. This year he mostly reminds me of a young Tim Hudson in Oakland. Jair has shown improved fastball command and changing speeds to better effect.

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  11. JT Grace says:

    I think Jurrjens is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. However, I don’t think he is, or ever will be, in the company of guys like Maddux. I do think that the Tim Hudson comparison is fairly accurate.

    Regarding JJ’s BABIP, his career BABIP is .281 and his BABIP this year is .262. That really isn’t a huge difference. While I don’t think he is 1.51 ERA good I do think he is as good as his FIP of 2.92 indicates. He is a smart young guy who is learning how to pitch to his strengths. And learning the Venters grip on the sinker only helped him. He will never be an ace but I would call him a strong #3 starter on most teams.

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  12. Antonio Bananas says:

    Jurrjens at 22 had an ERA of 3.68 in 188IP, at 23 2.60 in 216IP, then last year at 24 his ERA jumped to 4.64, however he only pitched 116 innings. Now he’s 65IP into this year and his ERA is 1.51. Nobody things he’ll keep this up, but the constant talk of his ERA being higher “than it should be” is bogus. Besides last year when he didn’t pitch a full year, he’s pretty much been on track to be a sub 3.00 guy.

    I don’t like FIP as a stat, “fielding independent”. It only takes into account home runs, walks, and strikeouts. Let’s say one pitcher strikes out no one and gives up 2 solo home runs and gets a ton of weak grounders because he has great command. Another guy strikes out 10 and gives up 10 line drive doubles that are smashed. According to FIP, the guy with great command who is getting easy outs (and being efficient) didn’t pitch as well. It’s bogus.

    A lot of guys are saying “I can see his walk rate going up” which it probably will. He’s consistently been around 3BB/9. However…he’s 25. It’s very possible for him to get better. Maybe 2.5BB/9.

    All I’m saying is that you guys have been putting a lot of stock into a stat that is essentially bias against contact pitchers to evaluate a young contact pitcher.

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