Friday, May 15, 2009

The healing power of Edwin Jackson

In 2007, the Tigers made an absolutely atrocious trade when they sent Jair Jurrjens to Atlanta for Edgar Renteria. I believe the only two people who supported the trade were Jim Leyland and whoever got to take over Jurrjens’s spot at (AA) Erie. Jurrjens was one of Detroit’s most talented minor league prospects. The Tigers brought him in as a 17-year old and watched him methodically march through their minor league system. He was called-up in August of 2007 and put together an impressive string of performances including a four-start stretch in which he pitched 18.1 innings with an ERA of 1.96. He had impeccable command often working the corners with the precision of a veteran hurler. Jurrjens was the real deal and the Tigers were lucky to have him. Except, I don’t think the Tigers knew that. They shipped him off for the incredibly inconsistent and average Renteria. The eventual impact of the trade was not surprising. Renteria was so terrible in Detroit that he lasted just one season before he was mercifully asked to leave. Jurrjens, on the other hand, is already arguably the ace of the Atlanta-staff.

I was pissed about the trade then and--whenever I feel the need to sabotage my day--I still get pissed about it. It could be the John Smoltz-trade all over again except instead of getting the equivalent of “Doyle Alexander’s 9-0 record”, we got the equivalent of nothing. Jurrjens has quite a ways to go before he can be compared to John Smoltz but if the Tigers were looking to duplicate the worst trade in franchise history, they definitely picked the right players.

Recently, though, something has been making me feel a little bit better about the trade—or I should say a little less bitter. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing will ever change the fact that the trade was horrible. In fact, it was worse than horrible because Dontrelle Willis ended up taking Jurrjens’s spot. However, as I mentioned, there is some atonement to be excited about. Dave Dombrowski—a man not accustomed to making bad decisions—seems to have made up for violating the number one rule in baseball by trading a minor league pitcher to the Atlanta. If the Jurrjens/Renteria trade was deplorable, then the coup of Edwin Jackson was brilliant.

In a move that went under the radar last winter, the Tigers sent Matt Joyce to Tampa Bay for Jackson. The Tigers quickly and smartly capitalized on Joyce’s unexpected power surge in 2008. The fact that they were able to nab a 25-year old fire-baller coming off a pretty good season is certainly a testament to Dombrowski and his scouting team. Even though there was a lot to like about the trade at the time, nobody could’ve expected that Jackson would be as good as he has been. Through seven starts, he has a 2.60 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. His Batting Average Against (BAA) is a paltry .222 and his OPS Against is only .629. He is having a career year across the board which could be a sign that he has figured out how to pitch in the majors after 500 innings of on-the-job training. I suppose it could be a fluke, too, but considering his age and repertoire, it’s equally likely that we’re seeing the maturation of a talented pitcher. I’m not sure this trade makes up for the Jurrjens debacle—Jurrjens is pitching even better than Jackson and is three years younger—but my “days ruined per month by the Jurrjens trade” is way down.

Thanks, in part, to the addition of Jackson and the return to dominance of Justin Verlander, the Tigers have quickly ascended to the top of the American League in pitching. They lead the league in shutouts. They’re fifth in ERA, On Base Percentage Against, and Batting Average Against. They’re also fourth in WHIP. All of this despite the average age of the staff being just 26 years old which is tied with Oakland and Florida for the youngest in MLB. The turnaround from just last year has been nothing short of remarkable. Just a year ago, the Tigers were the third worst pitching staff in the American League despite being the second oldest. Maybe this thing ain’t over after all.


Bill Peper said...

I appreciate your thoughtful commentary, but the focus of today’s entry touched my number one pet peeve – the revisionist history of the Jurrjens/Hernandez/Renteria trade and the glorification of Jurrjens’ pitching for the Tigers in 2007. To say that only Leyland and Dombrowski liked the deal is silly.

In retrospect, the trade has been an unmitigated disaster for the Tigers. Renteria stunk and Jurrjens has been phenomenal this year [and very good until August last year.] It is easy to criticize the trade in light of what we now know. There was a very real possibility at the time of the trade of Jurrgens washing out, as so many pitching prospects do. There also was a real possibility that Renteria would perform at a high level. According to valuation statistics, Renteria's play merited a salary of $17.8M in 2007 and $14M in 2006.

Bill Peper said...

Here is more of my rant on Jurrujens revisionist history:

It is terribly ironic that Edwin Jackson’s start occasioned the Jurrjens rant. The Jackson-Joyce trade was universally panned by the Tiger blogging community – labeled “Joyce-Gate.”

I have poked around some of the leading Tiger blogs for their concurrent reactions, and I haven’t seen a single commentator who criticized the trade – beyond the natural discomfort associated with trading good prospects. The consensus was that it was a fairly even trade, and it received the tentative approval of virtually all of the well-known Detroit Tiger bloggers.

Compare your comments on Jurrjens 2007 pitching at the end of the 2007 season with today’s post:

“Jurrjens and Bazardo were a toss-up [for third place on the Tiger rookie who had a breakout season in 2007 behind Ryan Rayburn and Chad Durbin]. I was the only voter who listed Bazardo but he quietly put together a season equally impressive--if not more impressive--than Jurrjens who finished second. Both did some OK things but that was about it.”

Your opinion of Jurrjens when the trade happened [November 1, 2007]:

“I’m remorseful to see Jurrjens and Hernandez go; Jurrjens especially. He has great command, a 95-MPH fastball, and the confidence to match. I think he’ll end up being a pretty good pitcher.”

Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus on Jurrjens-Renteria trade:

“I advocated that deal for the Tigers because I think that Jurrjens is a hair overrated. Both his scouting reports and his statistics indicate that he’s likely to top out as a #4 starter. He perhaps has more likelihood of achieving that status in Atlanta, which still has a knack for developing pitching talent, but I don’t know that the upside is higher than that. On the other hand, the Braves very much did need starting pitching talent and they very much didn’t need Edgar Renteria, so I thought that this was reasonable for their side as well. To my thinking, a Renteria-Jurrjens deal (with nobody else involved) would have been a clear win for the Tigers and at least a tolerable move for the Braves.
Of course, Jurrjens was not the only prospect involved in this deal, and he was probably not the best prospect involved in this deal. …
Now, Renteria undoubtedly has some surplus value on his contract as well. Signed at $10 million for 2008 and to an $11 million team option for 2009, Renteria would probably cost somewhere between $15-$20 million per season if he was in the market for a new two-year deal today.”

“I continue to waffle on this trade. All along I liked picking up Renteria, but was having a hard time getting comfortable with the price. Granted Jurrjens was likely a 3 or 4 guy in a rotation …”

“My initial reaction is mixed, but I'm still trying to sort it all out in my head. I'm thrilled the Tigers got what was probably the best shortstop available, someone proficient with both the bat and the glove. But to give up one of their best minor league outfielders, along with a top pitching prospect seems like a rather high price at first glance. I could've seen trading either Hernandez or Jurrjens in such a deal. To see them both go is a bit of a surprise.”

Everyone who loves the Tigers laments the trade. But let’s not portend that we knew that it would blow up the way it has. I also have had people tell me that me that they “knew” that the economy, the insursance and banking industries, GM, and the stock market all would crash in late 2008. If I knew that, I would have mortgaged everything and bought put options – and made a few billion.

Sorry for the long post, but this really gets my blood boiling.

Jake said...

Bill, I appreciate your comments. I’m going to warn you that this is long. I read your posts. I’ve research what I’ve written in the past and compared to what I’ve written now to make sure I’m not misremembering Roger Clemens style or that I’m not saying anything that isn’t right. But here goes…

I’m not exactly sure where this came from. I understand that you are not a fan of revisionist history. I am also not a fan. I have a pet peeve relating to revisionist history as well but it has more to do with people who invoke the phrase revisionist history to prove a point when, in fact, there was no such revisionist history made. An example of this is when Bill Simmons (AKA The Sports Guy) said that revisionist history has caused Wilt Chamberlain to be rated higher than Bill Russell in terms of greatness when in reality, Russell was always considered the better player back in the 60 and 70s. That’s just not true. Wilt and Russell played in the league together for nine seasons. Wilt made First Team All-NBA over Russell in seven of those nine seasons.

Anyhow, I don’t think I’m guilty of revisionist history. I definitely might be guilty of making a faulty assumption—something I’ll get to later but I’ve reread what I’ve written about the Renteria/Jurrjens trade in this Edwin Jackson post and I can’t really find anything that’s not true other than the assumption I just referenced. I stated that the Jurrjens/Renteria trade was an atrocious trade. I think it clearly has been. Renteria lasted one miserable season and Jurrjens is flourishing. So, I don’t think I’m saying anything other than the truth when I say this trade was atrocious......

Jake said...

I also am not saying anything now that I didn’t think when the trade was made. You copied and pasted two sentences that I wrote about the trade. Why not copy and past everything I wrote about the trade? Here it is…

“I’m remorseful to see Jurrjens and Hernandez go; Jurrjens especially. He has great command, a 95-MPH fastball, and the confidence to match. I think he’ll end up being a pretty good pitcher. However, you have to give to get. The Tigers needed a bona fide shortstop and the price for one of those is clearly not cheap. My concern is that Renteria isn’t a top-tier shortstop. The Tigers didn’t just seek anyone to replace Guillen. The goal was to come close to replacing Guillen’s power and/or drastically improve the position defensively. I’m not sure Renteria does either. His career OPS+ is 97. He has had three above-average seasons in 12 years. He is extremely inconsistent from year to year as you can expect anything from an OPS+ of 77 to 130. He is coming off the second-best season of his career as he posted an OPS+ of 125. His best season came in 2003 in which he produced an OPS+ of 130. He followed that with two miserable seasons.

I don’t mind giving up prospects for a proven commodity. The current depth in the Tigers system allows for that trade-off. However, in this instance, I do at least slightly mind giving up Jurrjens and Hernandez for Renteria. According to Bill at The Detroit Tigers Weblog, the Tigers picked up 2 to 2.5 wins by essentially replacing Guillen’s defense and Sean Casey’s bat with Renteria. Two wins isn’t anything to scoff at but given Renteria’s unreliability from year to year, a two-win improvement is no guarantee. Plus, it’s not like the Braves had all the leverage in this deal and the Tigers had none. The Braves were actively trying to unload Renteria because Yunel Escobar—a promising, young shortstop in the Braves organization—was ready to take over. Given Renteria’s unreliability and Escobar’s pending promotion, it seems a little much to give up Jurrjens and Hernandez.

If I were a Braves fan, I would be elated with this deal. Not only does Escobar get to move into the shortstop position on an everyday basis, but the Braves also picked up a top-of-the-line pitching prospect and a centerfielder who has been drawing rave reviews ever since he stepped foot in the minor leagues. Players like Renteria are relatively easy to find. This trade isn’t going to cripple the Tigers. The chances are actually very good that this trade will have a net impact of zero or slightly positive. That said, I don’t think there is any doubt that the Braves got the better end of this deal.”......

Jake said...

I’m not sure how many more ways I could’ve written that I didn’t like this trade when it was made. I clearly stated that Renteria was not a top-tier shortstop and that he was inconsistent. I also said that “players like Renteria are relatively easy to find.” I clearly said that Altanta got the better end of the deal. Also, with all due respect to, I wasn’t buying Renteria then in spite of their apparent adulation. He had three good seasons in his career up until that point one of which was the year just before this trade was made. Anyone who follows trends or who had watched Renteria his entire career would know that he was just as likely to be terrible as he was to be good. I knew this and I stated it at the time.

Wouldn’t you expect someone who wrote what I wrote two years ago to be miffed when said trade didn’t work out at all? I apologize for not coming out with f-bombs and hyperbole by calling this the worst trade in the history of the universe but I don’t write like that. Over three paragraphs, I made the case that this trade was not a good trade. I felt that way then and I feel that way now. I had consistently lauded Jurrjens’s repertoire on my blog while he was making his way through the organization. I didn’t start liking him after the trade.

I wrote this on June 10, 2006:

“Even the most knowledgeable Tigers fans would have a hard time telling you who Jair Jurrjens is. Jurrjens first pitched in the Tigers organization in 2003 at the tender age of 17. Still only 20, Jurrjens' stat line reads like a first round fantasy baseball draft pick. Jurrjens is 5-0 with a 2.01 ERA, .87 WHIP, and 53 K’s in 67 innings. I have a hard time understanding why Jurrjens is still at A Lakeland considering how masterful he has been. Teams that do their homework would likely ask Jurrjens to be included as a “throw in” in any trade request. The Tigers would be smart not to give Jurrjens away at this point. His value will likely skyrocket in the next two years.”

I wrote this on August 15, 2007 just before his MLB debut:

“Jurrjens’ debut will be especially intriguing to Tigers fans who have followed his rise through the Tigers minor league system. He started in the organization in 2003 as a 17-year old. Four years later, he’s making his MLB debut in the thick of a pennant race. I have no delusions that Jurrjens will be able to duplicate his minor league success immediately. Virgil Vasquez has been a perfect example of a). not expecting too much in a MLB debut and b). not jumping to conclusions after one start. It’ll just be nice to see Jurrjens pitch for the first time. And to think--if we believe reports out of Pittsburgh, Jurrjens was almost traded for Jack Wilson at the trade deadline. Who let Randy Smith back in the building?”

I have no idea what your’re talking about when you reference my “glorification of Jurrjens’ pitching for the Tigers in 2007.” I made no such glorification. You wrote, “Compare your comments on Jurrjens 2007 pitching at the end of the 2007 season with today’s post:” I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove there. I was voting on “Tigers newcomer of the Year.” My vote was based solely on 2007 MLB performance and not expected future performance or prospect value. I had consistently rated Jurrjens as one of the top prospects in the minor league system and rated him 7 spots ahead of Bazardo in June of 2007 and the #4 prospect in the organization. Jurrjens and Bazardo saw limited action near the end of 2007. They both performed about the same. I don’t really know what else you wanted me to say.....

Jake said...

Another thing that you wrote is that the Edwin Jackson was universally panned by the Tigers community. That’s news to me. I don’t have time to read too many blogs but I did not pan the trade. In fact, I was pretty intrigued by it since Joyce’s 2008 performance was totally unexpected which raised his value higher than it should’ve been which meant it was a good time to trade him. However, I claimed nowhere in my post that I knew the Jackson trade was a steal. Trades are viewed in hindsight. The Tigers were not blasted for the Smoltz/Alexander trade until Smoltz became a star. In hindsight, the Jurrjens/Renteria trade was absolutely atrocious and the Jackson/Joyce trade was a steal. I don’t see what the problem is with saying that. Also, I’m not sure why it’s “terribly ironic” that Jackson’s fine start made me reference the Renteria trade. In fact, the whole point of my post was that a bad trade has been nearly wiped out by a good trade. It would’ve been tough to write a post on that subject without talking about both of the trades I was referencing.

Now, there is one mistake that I may have made that was purely unintentional. Like I said, I don’t read many blogs. I couldn’t tell you what the Tigers blogosphere thought of the Renteria trade when it was made. However, I can tell you what the people that I talk to thought of the trade and I can’t think of one that liked the trade. Obviously, I was exaggerating for effect when I said that the only two people who liked the trade were Jim Leyland—because it was yet another Florida Marlins player that he used to manage—aand the guy who got Jurrjens’s spot in the minors. Clearly, Dombrowski liked the trade, Renteria’s agent liked the trade and many, many more people liked it. I was merely exaggerating to make the point that—from my perspective—not many people liked the trade. Judging from what you’ve researched about other Tigers blogs, there are definitely people who didn’t mind it.

Anyhow, if you want to attack someone for initially liking a trade and/or being indifferent who then revises their stance only after the trade didn’t work out, by all means do it. Remember, you said, “I have poked around some of the leading Tiger blogs for their concurrent reactions, and I haven’t seen a single commentator who criticized the trade – beyond the natural discomfort associated with trading good prospects.“ What about me? I spent three paragraphs criticizing the trade well beyond “natural discomfort associated with trading good prospects.” I understand why you would be peeved if I actually did what you’ve said I’ve done. I just don’t understand why you think I’ve done it!

Take care, Bill!

Bill Peper said...

I apologize for any venom contained in the posts. The Jurrjens trade and Gary Sheffield are my hot button Tiger topics. My posts were much too harsh and critical and should have been worded differently. I am sorry if I offended you in any way.

[For the record, I think trading for Sheffield was a good decision. He was mashing the ball when he collided with Placido in 2007, and I believe that the Tigers would have won the division in 2007 if he had not gotten hurt. That he never recovered and that the Tigers never benefited much from the trade because of his injury does not affect whether the trade was prudent.]

While I have no desire to beat this topic into the ground, please allow me a few clarifying comments.

I remember Jurrjens making one great start in 2007, but otherwise being unremarkable. In your Edwin Jackson post, you stated: “He was called-up in August of 2007 and put together an impressive string of performances including a four-start stretch in which he pitched 18.1 innings with an ERA of 1.96. He had impeccable command often working the corners with the precision of a veteran hurler. Jurrjens was the real deal and the Tigers were lucky to have him.” My immediate thought was “He wasn’t anything to write home about in 2007.” I searched your blog and found that you shared this conclusion on Jurrjens’ performance in 2007. You wrote that “both [Jurrjens and Bazardo] did some OK things, but that was about it.” Your Edwin Jackson post seemed to imply that Jurrjens channeled Sandy Koufax and pitched exceptionally well in 2007. He didn’t. Sorry if I misunderstood that comment.

Jurrjens has pitched brilliantly this year, as he did at times last year. [I don’t think he has established himself as “the real deal” quite yet, but …] At the time of the Renteria trade, there was no consensus – or any serious suggestion, as far as I can tell – that he ever would become “the real deal” and one of baseball’s best pitchers. He had upside potential and was a good prospect, but the same could be said for any top five pitching prospect in every organization. Some pitchers (Verlander and Porcello) are projected as high impact starters, but Jurrjens wasn’t. He was pegged as a #4/5 starter.

Would you have been shocked if Jurrjens hadn’t become a star? You thought he would “end up being a pretty good pitcher.” That is a far cry from “I am convinced that he is ‘the real deal’ – and he will be an All-Star within three years.” You wrote, “I do at least slightly mind giving up Jurrjens and Hernandez for Renteria” and “it seems a little much to give up Jurrjens and Hernandez.” Given your doubts about Renteria, I would have expected you to be much more negative about the trade if you really expected Jurrjens to develop into a top-flight pitcher.

At the time of the trade, you wrote; “The chances are actually very good that this trade will have a net impact of zero or slightly positive [for the Tigers].” That sentence led me to conclude that you weren’t too pissed off or confident that Jurrjens would become a star when the trade was made. I have been wrong countless times, so I apologize if I read that comment the wrong way.

The thought that The Tigers threw away the pitcher that Jurrjens has become for “Renteria of 2008” sickens me. I share your repulsion for the result of the trade. But the trade was reasonable gamble at the time for a Tiger team expected to contend for a World Series title. Nobody (as far as I can tell) strongly criticized it before Renteria flopped and Jurrjens started pitching so well.

My Edwin Jackson/Matt Joyce “very ironic” comment was inappropriate in light of your post as well. Tiger Nation hated the deal until Jackson started pitching so well and Joyce flamed in Tampa Bay. I see a similar pattern of revisionist history surrounding both the Renteria and Jackson trades.

Thanks for all of your work on the blog. Despite my flaming post, I am a fan.

Jake said...


No harm, no foul.

I can certainly see where you’re coming from with respect to the way I discussed the Renteria trade two years ago. Maybe I should’ve come down harder on the trade. However, I am not a scout so any opinion I have on a trade is admittedly an opinion as an outsider. Without the intimate knowledge that scouts/GMs/managers have, it’s impossible to ever know for sure why a trade was made. That’s why I simply gave quite a few reasons why I wouldn’t have made the trade and left it at that. As far as I was concerned, I was clearly saying that the Tigers made a bad deal. The comment I made stating, ““The chances are actually very good that this trade will have a net impact of zero or slightly positive [for the Tigers]” was probably misleading. All I meant was that despite my distaste for the trade, trades that seem bad turn out pretty good all the time and vice versa. Let’s look at it another way, if Renteria turned out to be a star for the Tigers and Jurrjens flamed out, I would’ve clearly been wrong. There’s no way even the most skilled spinsters could’ve helped me argue that I would’ve been right considering how many times I said that Renteria was not worth it, the Braves got the better end of the deal etc.

As for the apparent contradiction in what I wrote about Jurrjens’s performance in 2007 back in 2007 and what I wrote about it in this Jackson post, I think that has to do with context. On one hand, Jurrjens pitched just a few innings near the end of the season so I couldn’t really champion him for “Newcomer of the Year” which is what that post was about. However, as a 21-year old, pitching an 18-inning stretch with a 1.96 ERA is certainly something to point to as reason to believe the guy can be an effective MLB pitcher. I thought Jurrjens had #2/#3 stuff. I didn’t think he would be as good as he has been with the Braves as early as he has done it. However, don’t underestimate what it means to be a “pretty good pitcher.” Most pitchers in the majors do not fit that profile. Maybe I should’ve come out stronger for Jurrjens back in 2007 but when I read back what I wrote, I feel like I made a pretty respectful argument that the Tigers shouldn’t have made the trade.

One thing that you mentioned in your last comment is that “it was a reasonable gamble at the time” and that may have been why I didn’t seem more upset. The Tigers could afford to make a bad trade or so it seemed at the time. If you’ve got a million dollars and you lose a $20 bill into the garbage disposal, you might be pissed for a second before you remember you have a million dollars. If you are in major debt and the same thing happens, you’re screamin’ to high hell.

I agree with your thoughts on Sheffield. He was absolutely raking until he got hurt. It was absolutely the right trade to make. I applaud DD for making that move. I’m still not sold that letting him go was the best decision considering a). how much we’re paying him and b). his OBP is still very, very good. It’s just a shame that he was never the same. That stretch he was on was amazing.

Anyhow, I appreciate the feedback and clarifications. I try very hard to not contradict myself or be unfair. Trust me, nobody is more peeved by me doing that than me. Thanks again for the comments.
Take care!


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