Doug Melvin should be given an award or at least a major pay raise for a move he made back in April.
The Milwaukee Brewers general manager went out and signed reliever Jeremy Jeffress just a few weeks after he daringly elected his free agency from the Toronto Blue Jays. Jeffress, of course, was a first round draft pick by Milwaukee in 2006, but after multiple suspensions over marijuana use, was traded to the Kansas City Royals.
But enough with the history lesson. The point is, Jeremy Jeffress is destined to be the next big name in Major League Baseball’s bullpen.
If Francisco Rodriguez doesn’t return to the Brewers, which is likely, it’s fair to assume Jonathan Broxton will be the ninth-inning man in 2015. That gives Jeffress one more year to hone his skills before potentially being named closer. Jeffress should assume setup duties this year, a role in which he was used in from time to time last season. Jim Henderson is coming off shoulder surgery and it’s still unknown when he’ll be ready to pitch. That opens the door for Jeffress. If Jeffress can take the next step forward, 2016 will eventually be coined “The Year of Jeffress”.
Jeffress appeared in 29 games with the Brewers in 2014, and flashed a 1.88 ERA, 2.57 FIP and 2.59 xFIP. He struck out 21.9% of batters and had a phenomenal strand rate (85.9%).However, his strand rate is one of the reasons why we might see a bit of a regression from him next year; league average left on base percentage was 73.9% among relievers. But even if Jeffress does take a little backslide, there’s no reason to think it’ll be damning enough to halt his success.
As is typical with the closer position, teams covet a closer who can hit mid-to-upper 90s on the radar gun. Using a hard-throwing pitcher for just one inning makes it tough on hitters as they have no time to make adjustments. According to Brooks Baseball, Jeffress’ sinker, which he threw 345 times in 2014, averaged 97.3 mph. FanGraphs has it averaging 96.6 mph, but that’s just semantics. Either way, nobody in Milwaukee’s bullpen threw harder than Jeffress.
Batters did, however, hit .325 off Jeffress’ sinker, but only accumulated a .048 ISO against it. In other words, Jeffress allowed 23 singles but only four doubles. He needs to limit baserunners, yes, but singles aren’t going to kill him. Besides, he allowed a relatively high .321 BABIP, which should shrink somewhat next season. Another reason why this isn’t worrisome is because he forced a heck ton of ground balls (61.5 GB%), and a lot of those went through for hits meaning it was simply bad luck and/or he had poor defense behind him. The Brewers seemed to fault the defense as they fired first base coach Garth Iorg, who also served as the infield coach.
An underrated part of Jeffress’ repertoire is his curveball, which he uses to keep hitters off balance. He threw his curve 105 times in 2014 and allowed just two singles. Here’s his curveball in action, striking out Buster Posey.
Jeffress has the ability to be one of the game’s best closers. He gets ground balls, keeps the ball in the yard and can rack up the strikeouts with his blazing sinker or nasty curve.
The best thing about him for the Brewers right now is that he’s cheap, but if he pitches like I think he will, Jeffress will command a lot more in just a short while.