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too-early-for-jair | January | 2008 Articles

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Too Early for Jair?

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Several of you have selected in the poll that you believe the 21-year old Jair Jurrjens will be the Braves' fifth starter next year. In a late-season callup for Detroit last year, he posted a not-terrible 4.70 ERA in 30.2 innings over 7 starts in August and September. But would it be wise to hand a rotation spot to someone that young? Jurrjens was skipped from AA directly to the majors, and apart from his ERA, many of his numbers last year indicate he wasn't quite ready for prime time. His K/9 rate fell more than 3 below his minor league average, and his walk rate and homer rates both increased. However, the question of whether he should be given a rotation spot is also one of developmental philosophy, and whether it is prudent to promote extremely young pitchers to the majors and expect them to learn on the fly. From 1997 to 2007, the Braves developed 9 pitchers who started at least 10 games in the Show: Kevin Millwood, Odalis Perez, Bruce Chen, Jason Marquis, Damian Moss, Horacio Ramirez, Chuck James, Kyle Davies, and Jo-Jo Reyes. Millwood had considerable success in his time with the Braves. Of the others, Marquis, Moss, and Ramirez regressed from early success; Perez, Chen and Davies never developed during their time with the Braves; and the jury's still out on James and Reyes. Kevin Millwood, the biggest success of all of them, has pitched better in the majors than he did in the minors. His major league walk rate is 40% lower that it was on the farm, and until last season his career ERA was lower in the majors than in the minors. He was called up when he was 22, pitched his first season when he was 23, and contended for the Cy Young at 24. Since then, he has more or less oscillated between league-average seasons and stellar seasons. The rest of the pitchers have understandably been unable to match their minor league numbers. And many of them had much less prep time than Millwood did. None but James attended college. Perez was called up when he was 20, and Chen, Marquis and Davies were called up when they were 21. Horacio Ramirez and Damian Moss were called up at 23 and 24, respectively. Of all of them, only Chen and Moss logged 100 innings at AAA, and Ramirez skipped it altogether. All of them are examples of arrested development. Marquis, Moss and Ramirez had the best seasons of their career in their rookie seasons; Chen, Perez, and Davies never had sustained success with the Braves. All were traded away, some with considerably higher perceived value than others. Jurrjens still has yet to throw an inning at AAA. Due to an organizational philosophy which has appeared to prioritize letting prospects learn on the fly in the major leagues rather than take their lumps in triple-A, it's very possible that Jurrjens will be considered for a rotation spot rather than sent to Richmond. But that may not be in his best interest. Shouldn't we let him see what AAA is like?

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