20 February 2013

Dan Duquette's Grand Pitching Plan: Its Jurrjens Time!

Last year, Dan Duquette disappointed many an Orioles fan.  I will not go through most of the transactions, but here is a subset involving acquisitions of pitching talent:
November 22, 2011 - Signed P Miguel Socolovich
December 8, 2011 - Traded P Jarret Martin and UTL Tyler Henson for P Dana Eveland
December 13, 2011 - Signed P Tsuyoshi Wada
December 16, 2011 - Signed P John Link
January 4, 2012 - Signed P Willie Eyre
January 9, 2012 - Signed P Ross Wolf
January 10, 2012 - Signed P Wei-Yin Chen
January 18, 2012 - Signed P Armando Galarraga and P Oscar Villareal
January 20, 2012 - Signed P Dennys Reyes
January 21, 2012 - Signed P Chris George
So...how inspiring is that list?  Faced with a mess of a rotation at the end of 2011, Duquette decided to keep Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Brad Bergesen, and Zach Britton.  At this point, he was also far along in sending Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for Jason Hammel.  Duquette decided to collect additional bottom tier arms in Eveland, Wada, Wolf, Chen, and Galarraga.  What this does is that it allows you to play the entire field to figure out your actual rotation.  If you collect a bunch of bottom fringe arms, it enables you to cast away players who do not perform well with those who might be doing well in spring training or in the minors.  That gives you a lot of freedom by not hindering the Major League club with big money deals on players who will not agree with being sent to the minors.

The key though is looking at this group and being able to discern which players are the useful ones and which are the ones the team should feel free to expose on waivers.  It can certainly be argued that the Orioles made mistakes by designating Alfredo Simon instead of releasing Kevin Gregg or designating Brad Bergesen instead of releasing Kevin Gregg when the team acquired Omar Quintanilla.  Both Simon and Bergesen were lights out coming out of the bullpen for the Reds and Diamondbacks, respectively.  Their loss was not felt much by the Orioles because they had a massive amount of relief arms that could fill in any role.  However, again, the bulky contract given to Kevin Gregg probably is a big reason why he stayed instead of the lower cost pitchers like Simon or Bergesen.  But, yes, they were not big losses and the team, with a large stable of fringe arms, was able to find effective replacements.

The point is that if you acquire a great deal of low end talent, you provide yourself with cheap opportunity to find talent or performance that was overlooked.  It can be argued that signing a half dozen sixth starters is much more useful than signing someone like Joe Saunders to a three year deal when he likely represents 4th or 5th slot performance for a first division team.

Why bring all of this up?
February 15, 2013 - Orioles sign starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens and designate for assigment.

Jurrjens is familiar with many an Orioles fan due to his appearance in many a Adam Jones to Atlanta deal.  Based on what information there is available it seems an impasse arose when the Braves offered Martin Prado, who was recently a big piece in a deal for Justin Upton, Jair Jurrjens, and a couple fringe low minor arms for Jones.  The Orioles balked and demanded that two of the following be added: Brandon Beachy, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino.  Unfortunately for the Braves, they broke off talks as 20/20 hindsight shows that offering Jurrjens, Teheran, and Vizcaino would have been a steal for them.  The value of those three has tanked.  Beachy wound up going under the knife and won't be much of a contributor until 2014.  Delgado is going West in the Upton deal.  Mike Minor is healthy and looks like a good mid-rotation arm.  In other words, it is probably a good thing the Orioles kept Jones.

Why did Jurrjens' value drop even though he was dominating the NL halfway through the 2011 season?  Injuries have led to Jurrjens coming over the top more in his release.  Changes in his mechanics have led to a higher release point, poorer command, and reduced velocity.  He used to sit around 91 mph and creep up to 96 mph, but injuries lowered that to 89 mph, topping out at 91.  That may not seem like a major drop in velocity, but you can consider Chris Tillman here.  Tillman, of course, uses a different repertoire, but losing two or three mph results in a lot less swing and misses.  He saw an increase in batter contact from 83 to 90% with much of that, amazing, coming on contct with pitches out of the zone.  If players are connecting, then it increases the likelihood that they will be getting on base.  Based on Jurrjens velocity at the end of last year (before a groin injury ended his season), he was still an upper 80s pitcher.

Ok, so why did Duquette signed a low end pitcher with three seasons upended by leg injuries and continued reduced velocity?  Well, he is cheap and he can be optioned if he makes the 40 man roster.  Jurrjens can be optioned to Norfolk this year, go through arbitration next year, and be optioned again in 2014.  That maneuverability make Jurrjens a player that you can shuttle back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk, hoping he gets back on the right track.  This would be similar to how Tillman and Matusz were treated. Hoarding and moving fringe rotation talent does seem to be a characteristics of this regime.

Here is a probably starting pitching depth chart:
Jason Hammel
Wei-Yin Chen
Chris Tillman
Miguel Gonzalez
Zach Britton
Jake Arrieta
Steve Johnson
Brian Matusz
Jair Jurrjens
Tommy Hunter
Dylan Bundy
Tsuyoshi Wada
I would group Hammel and Chen as locks.  Tillman would have to do something awfully wrong to get bumped.  Gonzalez, Britton, and Arrieta are likely in some measure in a fight for two positions.  Johnson will have a hard time finding an in while Matusz will be given an opportunity if he is dominant in Spring Training.  Of the rest, Jurrjens and Bundy are the two who could race up the chart and nestle in behind Hammel and Chen.  On April 2nd, Jurrjens has a better probability to have done that.  On August 1st, Bundy would be the one with the better probability.


dan o'hare said...

Do you think this stradegy is just a stop gap (throwing lots of average players against the wall until one sticks) until we get to better pitching like Bundy, Gausman, or do you think this is a viable stradegy going forward for all teams to follow?

Also, just curious, do you think the competition in camp helps the likes of the calvery?

Andrew said...

Though he'd probably be added to the bottom of this depth chart, I'd say Todd Redmond fits as part of this strategy as well. TJ McFarland too, though he obviously has time and rules limitations that make his fringe value harder to capture.

Jon Shepherd said...

Dan...I think that is too specific. There are holes in the rotation and the FA top end options were deemed unfavorable, so make do. If Dylan and Kevin excel then they will reduce the holes. However expecting them to be solutions is optimistic if you truly want to compete this year.

Andrww... yes, him too.

dan o'hare said...

I want to compete every year! :)