Braves Selling Low on Hanson and Jurrjens: Moneyball Ain’t Alive in Atlanta People

Monday December 3rd, 2012


Jonathan Hacohen ( Lead Baseball Columnist): 

I was thinking back this week to one of my fave articles from this past year. Being an admirer of the Oakland A’s methods of building a ball team and the “Moneyball Movement”, this past July I published a Billy Beane article – focusing on the modern Moneyball movement. Back in 2011, many critics were quick to jump on Beane and the A’s, mocking the A’s GM and the release of the movie Moneyball. Panned as a historical piece, Beane was viewed as a dinosaur. His methods outdated. The rest of the baseball world had caught on to his sly ways and overtook him. I refused to buy into it and was unwilling to write-off Beane. But nobody, not even the A’s GM himself saw was to come in 2012. We know how the season went down- the A’s slipped in as the AL West champs and make a good run in the playoffs. Nobody was laughing anymore and Beane went from hack back to genius overnight. While in my last article I focused on Beane’s construction of a young and talented lineup, most analysts view Beane’s success in terms of being able to flip pitchers at their peak. Billy Beane is a master of this art and it has led to much success in Oakland. Compare this now to Atlanta, which has essentially lost Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens for almost nothing. Not the Billy Beane way of doing business- and now the Braves will be paying the price.

Just flip on the MLB reports TJ Tracker and get ready to be alarmed. It is amazing the amount of pitchers from this part year that went to Tommy John surgery alone. Pitching is one of the most unstable and uncertain variables that you have in the game of baseball. While we all know this, including baseball GM’s, there remains an unwillingness for the most part to lessen the risks by teams. For whatever reason (mainly the notion that you MUST have top starters to succeed), teams simply hang onto their pitchers too long. They grant free agent pitchers too many years and dollars, only to cry about it later. Check back with me in 3-4 years and let’s talk the Zack Greinke deal. The team that will give him the 7-year $150+ million deal will live in regret for many years. Trust me. Those resources could be allocated to more certain hitting and a greater quantity of pitchers in the system. If you invest in fewer arms, you increase the chance of an implosion. Atlanta has certainly found that out the hard way. If Billy Beane was the General Manger of the Braves, Hanson and Jurrjens would have been long gone. Now, the team has a middle reliever in Jordan Walden and nothing else for the former top two starters in their rotation. How did they let this happen?

Two young pitchers. Two Scott Boras clients. Tommy Hanson is 26 years of age. At 6’6″ and 220 lbs he is a big boy. Look at the amazing seasons he put up in his first three years in Atlanta. The numbers don’t lie. He was good for an ERA of 3.50 or below and a WHIP around 1.170. Good strikeouts numbers- the potential was there for an ace. Under team control until 2016, the sky was the limit. So how do the Braves trade a budding ace for a failed closer? Simple- injury concerns. Hanson’s ERA blew up this past season to 4.48 and whip to 1.454. The whispers wouldn’t quiet down- something ain’t right with him. To trade damaged goods in baseball means that you get back a project in return. Once the Angels closer, Jordan Walden is now seen as the possible 7th inning guy in a deep Braves bullpen.

Jair Jurrjens was once upon stolen by the Braves from the Tigers in a trade that landed the Braves their #2 starter. The native of Curacao was another pitcher that had the whole world ahead of him not that long ago. He had 14 wins for the Braves in 2009 with a 2.60 ERA and 2.96 ERA last season. At his peak he was a 1.250 or so WHIP pitcher- that maybe walked a few too many batters, but had tons of potential. Rumors swirled during the last offseason that the Braves would look to trade him and capitalize on his value. But for whatever reason, Jurrjens stayed in Atlanta. The result was a trip to the minors and a non-tender by the Braves this week. Jurrjens is now a free agent and the Braves get nothing back in return. Gonzalez had a Cy Young caliber season for the Nats this past year and would have helped the A’s as well. But being a pitcher, you never know when he may become wild or injured. Right Ricky Romero? Tim Lincecum? Chris Carpenter

Managing a pitching staff is like playing the stock market. You can’t get too greedy. It is better to sell a stock when it is high, even if it can still grow- rather than wait and watch it plummet. It is always better to sell a little soon rather too late. Why? Because when it’s too late…it’s too late. Imagine the packages that the Braves could have received for Hanson and Jurrjens a year ago. Toronto is in the same boat with Ricky Romero. Cincinnati paid a king’s ransom for Mat Latos, while the Nationals surrendered many nice pieces for Gio Gonzalez. Trevor Cahill was another trade last offseason that helped his former team in a hurry. That team was the Oakland A’s.

Once upon a time (last year), Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens were equal to 2-3 good young starting pitchers, a third baseman, a young catcher and maybe 1-2 more prospects. The Braves could have filled many holes in their rosters and deepened their farm system. Waiting too long has brought in no returns. The Braves rolled the dice and lost. They held onto their lottery ticket, thinking that better numbers would come up the following year. With the fragility of pitching in baseball, you will rarely know year-to-year what you will get. For every Justin Verlander, there are 1000’s of Todd Van Poppels. Can’t miss prospects that somehow end up fizzling out. Billy Beane may like his players, but he doesn’t fall in love with them to the point that he will hold onto them no matter what. If the right is paid, anyone is tradeable. The moneyball system includes the notion that you buy low and sell high. Build a strong roster portfolio at the best possible price. Tommy Hanson may end up becoming an ace for the Angels, or another lifelong DL candidate. Jair Jurrjens may turn into Jack Morris…or Dontrelle Willis. We have no idea. But we do know that the shine is off these pitchers and their value has been eroded to almost nothing. How the Braves could waste two of their biggest assets is beyond me. The time has come in Atlanta to start thinking about better roster management. Having Scott Boras as their agent meant that Hanson and Jurrjens would be expensive one day if they fulfilled their potentials. The problem is that the Braves waited too long to find out if their pitchers would become aces. Now they are just another set of jokers in the game of baseball poker. 


*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ***

A Big Thank You for preparing today's featured article goes out to Jonathan Hacohen (The Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist for The MLB Reports):  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter   You can also check out all of Jonathan's archived articles right here.

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About Jonathan Hacohen

I practice daily yoga. Most foods are organic. If you catch me in the supermarket, it will be in the produce aisle. Warrior 1 Yoga was born from my wish to help people be healthy and happy. I preach the 4 key's to life: nutrition, exercise, water and sleep. This is my journey - I am hope to meet you along the way to share a similar path!

Posted on December 3, 2012, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Big Braves fan and huge sabermetric buff here. I think the Braves did what they could have with Hanson. There was a drop in velocity in ’11, but the Ks went up, so there was no reason to think velocity and command would fall off the table this past year. They save around $3M with the trade, hopefully freeing up some more room to get a decent LF/3B.

    I have never been a big fan of Jurrjens, and once his average stuff dropped off a bit, he was done. The only way he will become a serviceable pitcher again is if he has a physical recovery. JJ’s stock wasn’t that high last offseason either, as a package of him, Prado, and a prospect wasn’t enough to pry Adam Jones from Baltimore.

    The Gio trade shows what CAN happen when you guess wrong the other way, trading someone right before they break out. Who would have thought Wood and Prior would end up poor for the Cubs? All teams are going to miss on pitchers more than they hit, and the Braves just happened to have a couple big-name misses. Fortunately, Medlen and Beachy can pick up their slack, and there’s still a lot of other pitching around.

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