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How good is Jeremy Jeffress?

I heard some grumbling this week when Jeremy Jeffress was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Leaving aside speculation about what effect his well-publicized marijuana use has had on his reputation, it's true that Jeffress' tradition pitching statistics do not particularly impress: overall, Jeffress went just 6-7 with a 4.31 ERA, and the trend was not positive; in his four starts after a late-season promotion to AA Huntsville, Jeffress allowed 30 baserunners and 9 runs in only 14.7 innings, culminating in an August 28th immolation that saw him allow 6 runs while only recording 2 outs. Let's look a little closer and see why Jeffress (it's pronounced "Jeffers", by the way), despite lackluster numbers and a disastrous finish, was named pitcher of the year.

Okay, that's a little misleading; you don't have to dig much deeper than this to see what's causing the commotion:

No starting pitcher in the minors throws harder than Jeffress, who's been clocked at 100-102 mph this year depending on which radar gun you're reading.
Kind of gets your attention, eh? But having the fastest fastball and being the best pitcher are not the same thing, though they're often related. What did Jeffress do that was so great?

First of all, I'm going to throw out the his four AA starts. Yes, he was bad, and yes, it counts, but we can't draw any meaningful conclusions from such a small sample with any confidence; for all we know, given an adjustment period, Jeffress could have settled in at Huntsville and dominated. Let's concentrate instead on the corpus of Jeffress' work at High-A Brevard County, where he spent most of the year.

Jeffress posted a 4.08 ERA and allowed 1.40 baserunners (H+BB+HBP) per inning for the Manatees. Again, hardly eye-popping, but better after his Huntsville numbers are removed from the equation. Now, let's turn to Jeff's statgasmic Minor League Splits to lead us further into the light. Looking at Jeffress' splits, we can see that his FIP--Fielding Independent Pitching, which "helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded"--was 3.31. Using Jeff's park- and luck-neutralizing tools, Jeffress' FIP drops to an even 3.00. But how good is that? Let's compare him to his peers, a group of highly regarded pitching prospects that are roughly Jeffress' age (plus or minus a year) and spent some time in High-A this year. In addition to FIP, I'm going to list K% and BB%:

Name FIP K% BB%
Jeremy Jeffress 3.00 30.1 12.1
Tim Alderson 4.34 21.3 5.9
Brett Anderson 3.43 25.7 5.8
Trevor Cahill 3.25 29.9 9.0
Jhoulys Chacin 3.62 23.5 4.5
Brandon Erbe 3.35 24.4 8.1
Jeremy Hellickson 2.07 28.0 1.7
Zach McAllister 3.39 17.8 3.7
Rick Porcello 3.87 13.7 6.3
As you can see, Jeffress stacks up pretty well. His FIP is second only to Hellickson's ridiculous 2.07, and his K% is the best of the bunch. His BB% lags behind the rest and is definitely a problem, but it's not obscene. The pitcher with the most similar numbers to Jeffress across the board is probably Oakland's Trevor Cahill, who is widely considered a contender for the best pitching prospect in all of baseball; however, unlike Jeffress, Cahill performed very well after a bump to AA.

What I take away from this is that, far from being overrated, Jeffress might actually be underrated. His performance stacks up well with the top pitching prospects, and his scouting reports are peerless. Watch for Jeffress to dominate at Huntsville next year and possibly earn a call-up. This is the next Gallardo.