June 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
The Braves seemingly have a decision to make fairly soon regarding their rotation. The team has used six starters this year, the five they broke camp with (Hanson, Hudson, Jurrjens, Lowe, and Kawakami) and Kris Medlen. Tomorrow night Jair Jurrjens is scheduled to make his third and final rehab start, meaning he will be ready to re-join the rotation on June 29th. This gives the Braves six healthy starters–something’s gotta give.
The usual course of action would be to remove the guy who replaced Jair Jurrjens from the rotation. But that guy (Kris Medlen) has pitched well, and it’s not an accident. On February 2, 2010 I wrote, “If [a starter] is injured, Medlen will assume a starting role, where I suspect he’ll pitch well enough for the Braves to think twice about putting him back in the bullpen.” We’re now on the ‘thinking twice’ part.
First of all, let me say I don’t think it’s a given Jair Jurrjens should be handed a spot in the rotation. Injured or not, his performance and results were god awful before he hit the DL, and he’s been knocked around in his two rehab starts. Plus, his peripherals haven’t been particularly good throughout his major league career (K/BB < 2!), which indicates he’s due for some bad regression. I’m not saying he shouldn’t re-join the rotation, just that I’m not as sure as everyone else seems to be. Of course, I haven’t seen either of his rehab starts, and I ultimately trust the Braves to make the correct decision. Plus a good start tomorrow night would probably change my mind.
But let’s assume the Braves do promote Jair Jurrjens to the rotation, as they almost certainly will and probably for good reasons. Who do they remove?
Let’s take a look at what we’ve got. These metrics were calculated using data from 2010:
Regarding decisions like this one, fundamentally I don’t care about the past–especially past results. Past performance can be used to project future performance and results, and so I care about past performance in that it can help me estimate future performance. But fundamentally, what happened in the past is the past and only what will happen matters.
Tommy Hanson is the best pitcher in the rotation and it would be downright silly to remove him. It would be almost as silly to remove Tim Hudson, despite his mediocre K/BB ratio. Which leaves Medlen, Kawakami, and Lowe.
The issue with Kris Medlen is his innings, his career high is 120 and 1/3 and he only threw 105 and 1/3 last year. There could be increased injury risks involved with letting Kris Medlen pitch in the rotation for the rest of the season. Especially considering his 5’9″, 190 LB frame. Now, I don’t know the Braves’ what thinking on this issue is, I’m not pretending to know. But his innings are largely disregarded when the subject is discussed. It’s an extremely important piece of the puzzle. You can not make a proper decision without considering the long-term implications. I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, here, but it’s amazing to me that even published columnists ignore this, effectively assuming anyone that picks up a cylindrical object is physically capable of being a MLB starting pitcher. It’s tough work, and I’m not sure Medlen’s ready for a full year of it.
I think if they decide Medlen is fit to stay in the rotation, he stays and Kawakami or Lowe goes. I expect Medlen to perform better than Kawakami or Lowe going forward. I don’t think it’s particularly important which one you pick to oust. Kawakami has been slightly worse, projects to be slightly worse, and isn’t as durable, so he seems like the logical candidate.
I’m anything but sure of the correct decision. Like I said, I’m not even sure Jair Jurrjens belongs in the rotation. There are too many things at play and too many untested variables to know. The only people qualified to make this decision are the people that have intensely evaluated the players in question for the past few years, aka the Braves.
When the Braves make their decision you’ll probably see lots of drivel about how the Braves screwed up, but don’t buy it. Without lots of professional evaluation, the best we can do is guess.