I’ve joked this year several times that if I believed in reincarnation and if Greg Maddux were dead, I would think that Jair Jurrjens is a reincarnation of the former great Braves right-hander. Last night’s 1-hit complete game masterpiece against the Baltimore Orioles is a perfect example of the comparison that I’ve been trying to make. It reminded me of a game which Greg Maddux would have pitched, in particular his July 2, 1997 start against the New York Yankees (Joe Posnanski’s favorite Maddux game).
The two games were both their team’s 83rd game of the season and occurred almost fourteen years to the day apart (July 1, 2011 and July 2, 1997 respectively). In last night’s win, Jurrjens moved to 11-3 on the year. In the 1997 game, Maddux moved to 11-3 on the year. Both wins were against an American League team (though the 1997 New York Yankees were bit more formidable than are the 2011 Baltimore Orioles). Both Jurrjens and Maddux struck out 8. Uncanny similarities, huh? (Chipper Jones presence in the line-up was another constant between the two games.)
Like snowflakes and fingerprints however, no two baseball games are exactly alike, so there were a few differences in the games. Jurrjens walked one man, Maddux walked none. Jurrjens only gave up one hit, Maddux gave up three (But Maddux picked off a runner from second base and induced a double-play making him face one less batter  than Jurrjens .). With the nine scoreless innings, Jurrjens lowered his Earned Run Average (ERA) to a league leading 1.89 and Maddux lowered his to 2.37. It took Jurrjens 112 pitches (77 strikes for 69%) but only took the always economical Maddux 84 pitches (61 strikes for 73%). The complete game effort by Jurrjens lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes, Maddux’s masterpiece lasted 2 hours and 9 minutes (the ten minutes could probably be explained by the fact that the Braves scored two additional runs for Jurrjens).
To be honest, it wasn’t the statistical similarities that made me think of this comparison. I only realized the remarkable details when I looked up the boxscores for both games this morning. What really triggered the comparison was by watching both men pitch and seeing the same precision on the inside and outside corners of the plate. The called strikes that were perfectly placed where the batter wouldn’t swing, but the umpire would call the strike. The unusual amount of groundballs back to the pitcher and the steadiness with which they were handled.
The point is that, not only are these two games very similar, Jurrjens is having a Greg Maddux type year. Anyone who watched them both pitch regularly will easily recognize the similarities. Neither have an over-powering fastball. Both rely on movement and location. The amazing thing about Maddux, of course, that he was able to replicate this type of performance start after start, year after year. It remains to be seen if the young Jurrjens (only 25 years old), will even be able to finish out this year with the same consistency he has shown in the season’s first half. Maddux did this over a remarkable 23 year career which produced 355 wins and guaranteed first ballot election to the Hall of Fame as soon as he’s eligible in 2014.
But watching the game last night it was all of the sudden the mid-1990s again. The Braves once again had the best pitching staff in the National League, led by a 25 year old reincarnation of the ace of the 1990s teams.