marcum

Marcum or Jurrjens?

News came out the other day that the Braves are considering trading Jair Jurrjens, but the most intersting tidbit about the story may have been provided by Ken Rosenthal: last winter, the Brewers and Braves discussed a Brett Lawrie-for-Jurrjens swap during Doug Melvin’s quest for starting pitching.

Talk about an interesting thing to know after the fact. The other night, Mark Smith of The Outside Corner and Braves blog Chop-N-Change (among others) asked a pretty good question. Knowing what we know now, this time last year, would you rather give up Lawrie for two years of Marcum, or three years of Jurrjens?

Of course, the trade the Brewers did make ended up working pretty well. Shaun Marcum threw 200 innings for Milwaukee, struck out just over 7 per 9 innings pitched, kept the ball in the park (0.99 HR/9), and was generally the Brewers’ most effective and consistent starter during the first half of the season. He started to look tired by the end of the year, but if it weren’t for Marcum’s contributions while Zack Greinke was working off the rust and Yovani Gallardo was having trouble missing bats, the Brewers probably don’t win the division.

Jurrjens, though, had an even more impressive first half for the Braves. Forget for a second that he outpitched just about every predictor he could have outpitched — he was getting some scary good results despite not striking many guys out and walking batters at a higher rate than Marcum.Through his first 16 starts, Jurrjens put up an ERA of 1.87 despite striking out just 65 of the 441 batters he faced. Like Marcum, he faded down the stretch, but was battling knee and oblique injuries. As bad as Marcum was at times during the last two months or so, at least he was still in the rotation. Jurrjens was on the shelf while the Braves went on a slide of historical proportions.

Long-term, though, who would the Brewers be better off with? Marcum is potentially a free agent after the 2012 season, while Jurrjens is under team control for 2012 and 2013. As a Scott Boras client, he’s not likely to sign an extension without testing the free agent market, while Marcum has at least seemed receptive to the idea of an extension.

Marcum will always come with the risk of arm injury due to his delivery, but there’s real concern that Jurrjens is already hurting. His strikeout numbers even before injury were down over last year, and he’s lost nearly 3 mph on his fastball during his four years in Atlanta. That’s more than a little concerning for a guy who’s entering his age 26 season. Marcum doesn’t throw as hard as he did when he first came up, either — his fastball actually averaged 89.4 mph as a rookie — but he was at least back to pre-Tommy John levels in 2011. Marcum’s also working with a larger repertoire than Jurrjens, who’s much more of a three-pitch pitcher. The wide assortment of pitches allows Marcum to keep opponents gusesing despite below-average velocity.

In the end, the Brewers ultimately passed up another year of team control for a better overall pitcher. I don’t think the Brewers are regretting their decision, and as someone who loved the deal when it was made, I don’t think they should. Marcum performed as expected, and while the end of the season was disappointing, overall it was a strong showing.

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