This week, the Dodgers take on their first over-.500 opponent of the 2012 season in the Atlanta Braves. They will face Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy. The average age of these pitchers is 25 years old. Information gathered from Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs and www.minorleaguecentral.com
Monday, April 23: Jair Jurrjens (R)
Jurrjens is a 26 year old All-Star and is coming off a sub-3.00 ERA season that was a case study in outperforming your peripherals. Last year, Jurrjens had a 2.96 ERA with a K/9 of 5.3 and 2.6 BB/9 (both in line with his career averages). The big concern with Jurrjens last year was a big drop in fastball velocity (from 91mph average in 2010 to 89mph in 2011). So far in 2012, his average fastball is down even further to 88mph, alleviating no concerns, but he's throwing it just as often (55%). Jurrjens relies on an 82mph changeup that he throws an incredible 30% of the time, and a 78mph slider (14%).
What to Watch For: It's evident that Jurrjens is a severe over-strider. He gets so extended with his legs that he must heel-strike, which doesn't allow his hips to adequately turn and his follow through is delayed. Fortunately for Jurrjens, he's still able to throw strikes, though for some reason this year he's already walked nine batters in just 13 1/3 innings of work. It'll be interesting to see which Jurrjens we get. Will we see the newly wild, changeup loving Jurrjens? Or will we see the strike-throwing, fastball-pumping Jurrjens of the last few years?
The main thing to watch for is the effectiveness of his changeup. His fastball has lost 4mph but his changeup has maintained its velocity. This has left his fastball only 6mph faster than his changeup on average, and both pitches have become susceptible to hard contact. He's going to have to be careful with his location if he expects to have success, and Dodgers will have to counter that by being patient and forcing him to throw pitches they can drive to the gaps.
Pick to Click: James Loney
Tuesday, April 24: Mike Minor (L)
In just his fourth professional season, the 24 year old Vanderbilt alum has been very consistent throughout his major league career, striking out just under a batter per inning, while walking under three per nine for an impressive 3:1 K:BB ratio (remember, under 2:1 is bad, 2.5-3 is very good, anything over 3 is elite). What's interesting with Minor is that of his four pitch repertoire, all of his pitches are thrown between 80 and 90 mph. He throws his 90mph fastball only 60% of the time like Jurrjens, also using a 84mph changeup (20%), 80mph curveball (10%) and 84mph slider (14%). Minor was ranked as the #37 prospect in baseball after the 2010 season by Baseball America.
What to Watch For: Incredibly similar to Jurrjens stuff-wise, Minor has been effective due to the deception in his left-handed delivery as well as the added natural sink on his fastball. He'll still run into the same velocity-related problems as Jurrjens, but he should be able to control our lineup a little better.
Pick to Click: A.J. Ellis, because Matt Kemp seems too easy here.
Wednesday, April 25: Brandon Beachy (R)
Beachy has been very impressive in his 1+ years in the major leagues. Last year as a rookie, Beachy had a 3.68 ERA but his peripherals suggest an even better season. He struck out over 10 per 9 while walking under 3 per 9. I feel confident in saying of the Braves trio we'll face this week, Beachy will get the least hype but be the best pitcher. He also has lost some velocity on his fastball since last year (92mph in 2011, 90mph in 2012), but will switch between a four-seam fastball and a (91mph) cut fastball that he actually throws harder on average than his four-seamer. For his offspeed pitches, Beachy uses a slider, changeup and curveball. Of the three, his curveball is the best pitch.
What to Watch For: Last year, Beachy threw his fastball and cutter away from both right- and left-handed hitters. This year, he's begun throwing his cutter in on the hands of left-handed hitters. If he can master that pitch, he'll be a dominant pitcher for years if he can stay healthy. Parts of his mechanics suggest long-term health may not be the case, but for now he hasn't had any issues. Watch to see if Beachy attacks lefties Dee Gordon, James Loney and Andre Ethier inside with the cut fastball. If he locates it, it'll be a long day for each of them. If he leaves one over the plate, however, it could mean fireworks.
Pick to Click: Dee Gordon