Jair Jurrjens won’t be starting the All-Star Game, and for that we should be grateful. Otherwise the best pitcher in the National League would stand revealed as a fraud.
We know this because Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press tells us so. Sharp writes that, had Detroit not shown mercy and traded the young hurler to the Braves for Edgar Renteria in October 2007, “he’d be nothing more than a .500 pitcher dueling against more powerful American League batting orders.”
More Sharp, addressing the possibility of a Jurrjens All-Star start, which was dashed Monday by that new Atlanta nemesis Bruce Bochy: “It could prove quite illuminating to see how a guy who pitches to contact, barely getting the radar gun to nudge a little north of 90 miles per hour, would fare against a possible 2-through-7 batting order of Curtis Granderson, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. It might get ugly.”
Hey, great point! Poor Jurrjens just faced the fearsome Hamilton, the reigning AL MVP, last month. And he yielded four consecutive grand slams to the slugger.
Actually, I made that up. Here’s how Jurrjens did against Hamilton on June 19: Walked him, struck him out swinging, struck him out swinging again.
Oh, yeah. Jurrjens won the game. Beat the Texas Rangers, the reigning AL champs. Yielded one earned run. Didn’t get ugly.
I should explain something: I’m not fond of taking on other columnists because I myself have written so many silly things the Internet isn’t vast enough to contain all the howlers. But Sharp’s argument, such as it is, pushes two of my figurative buttons: First, that the AL is the only league that plays real baseball, and second, that we can tell by the radar gun whether a guy can pitch. (Obviously that’s why Kyle Farnsworth is bound for Cooperstown and Greg Maddux quit baseball in disgust to go work at a driving range.)
Let’s stipulate that having the designated hitter makes some difference. The average ERA of a NL pitcher is 3.81; the average ERA of an AL pitcher is 3.88. So let’s tack 0.07 onto Jurrjens’ ERA, and we get … 1.94. And that would take him from 12-3, which happens to be his record, to 7-7 or 8-8, which Sharp believes Jurrjens would be were he a Tiger? Come on.
Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, each of whom work against the Braves on a regular basis, used to labor in the American League. Since switching over, their ERAs have indeed gone down, but … and this is a fairly major “but” … it’s not as if they’ve gone from lousy to great. Both won Cy Young Awards in the AL. Both are NL All-Stars.
Moral of our story: If you can pitch, you can pitch. The NL has won half of the past 10 World Series. Somebody obviously gets some of those guys out. (Know how well the aforementioned Hamilton did against the Giants’ pitchers last October? He hit .100.)
As for that business about “pitching to contact” and “barely getting the radar gun … above 90″: Every pitcher who has ever lived, from Rapid Robert Feller to Sandy Koufax to Justin Verlander, pitches to contact. Nobody strikes out everybody. We all get excited when somebody gets clocked at 96 mph, but you know who throws 96 mph? Scott Proctor, the Braves’ reliever who just yielded three home runs in eight days.
Jair Jurrjens might not be 12-3 for the Tigers. (Then again, given that Comerica Park is more spacious than Turner Field, he might be 13-2.) But he wouldn’t go hungry in any league anywhere. If you can pitch, you can pitch. This guy can pitch.
As for those brutish AL sluggers: I recall a lineup featuring Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome running into a pitcher who spent his life Pitching To Contact. The 1995 Cleveland Indians hit .291 as a team. Against Tom Glavine in Games 2 and 6 of the World Series, they managed five hits and two earned runs in 14 innings. I forget who won.
(Oh, and one thing more: Jurrjens made seven starts in the American League before the Tigers dealt him. He was 3-1, meaning he wasn’t a .500 pitcher even then.)
By Mark Bradley