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Was Jair Jurrjens Abused? No, But His Arm Still Might be Dead.

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Update: "MRI results showed that he isn't dealing with any structural damage in his right shoulder." Breathe a small sigh of relief, but not a big one, guys. Rafael Soriano showed us all that MRIs aren't the final word on injury. Jair still needs to be monitored closely and shut down the second he shows any kind of discomfort. (By the way, Rob Neyer linked to this post yesterday, saying "I'm roughly 90 percent in agreeance with Remington here.")

Original post: Jair Jurrjens is having an MRI on his shoulder, as you've heard by now. Shoulder soreness is bad; there are few things worse for a pitcher. The MLB.com story mentions that he felt a tired arm in 2008, after throwing 40 more innings that year than he ever had before (and thereby qualifying himself as a candidate for the Verducci Effect). In 2009, he pitched 215 innings, 26 2/3 more than in 2008.

Was he abused?

On a pitch-by-pitch basis, no. Jurrjens had six starts with more than 110 pitches last year, after only three such in 2008. On the other hand, this wasn't preferential treatment. Derek Lowe also had six starts of more than 110 pitches, and Javier Vazquez had 10. (Kawakami had two, and Tommy Hanson had just one.) In his 34 starts, which tied Lowe for the team lead, Jurrjens averaged 97.1 pitches a start and 15.3 pitches an inning -- while Lowe averaged 94.4 pitches a start but 16.5 an inning, Hanson averaged 94.4 pitches a start and 15.5 an inning, and Vazquez averaged 103.5 pitches a start and 15.1 pitches an inning. So he wasn't killed on a per-start basis. But all of those starts added up, and his 3305 pitches were second on the team, just behind Javy Vazquez's 3315, and 10th in the National League. (Both were far beyond league leader Adam Wainwright, who had 3614, or major league leader Justin Verlander, who had 3937, more than 300 more than runner-up Felix Hernandez.)

Then again, 215 innings seems like a lot for a 23-year old. And it is. Jurrjens is one of only 24 pitchers in the last 20 years to have a 215-inning season by his 23rd birthday. (Mark Buehrle, Ramon Martinez, and Steve Avery each had more than one.) As you might imagine with any group of precocious young pitchers, the vast majority of them got injured or flamed out by their 30th birthday. Two of them are headed to the Hall of Fame: John Smoltz and Mike Mussina. Several are still in their prime: Buehrle, Javy Vazquez, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain, the rejuvenated Ryan Dempster. A few are still active but close to ruined by injuries or ineffectiveness: Dontrelle Willis, Ben Sheets, Fausto Carmona, Sidney Ponson, and the perhaps-retired Mark Mulder. Of the rest, a few of them pitched meaningful innings into their 30s: Andy Benes (done by 34), Brad Radke (done by 33), Matt Morris (done by 33),and Livan Hernandez (somehow still around, at 34). The others were all more or less done by the end of their 20s.

Remember, young pitcher attrition is extreme. So Jair's got the odds stacked against him. Does that mean that the Braves were wrong to let Jair Jurrjens pitch 215 innings? Maybe, but 215 isn't actually a very high number when you consider that it's an average of fewer than 6 1/3 innings per each of his 34 starts. It might have been best if they could have shut him down during the stretch run, but he was the team's second-best pitcher, and they couldn't afford to lose him -- and even then, they weren't overly reckless with his pitch count, as he stayed at or under 100 pitches for five of his last seven starts despite never pitching fewer than 7 innings.

The hell of it is that there isn't much the Braves could have done to prevent this. Arm problems for young pitchers are all but inevitable. All we can do now is cross our fingers and hope.


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