Jeremy Jeffress took an interesting route to get to the Brewers bullpen. Milwaukee drafted the right handed pitcher in the first round of the 2006 draft. Originally developed as a starter, they converted him to relief in 2010 and he even pitched a handful of innings for the major league club. But then he went to Kansas City as part of the trade that brought in Zack Greinke. Things went south for him with the Royals and later the Blue Jays. It wasn't until later that he was finally diagnosed with a form of epilepsy. By then he'd returned to the Brewers on a minor league contract. I thought it was a nice low risk signing at the time, but I had no idea what Jeremy Jeffress had in store for all of us.
The Brewers signed him to that minor league deal in 2014. As a part of the Nashville Sounds he threw 41.2 innings with a 27.0 K%, a 63% ground ball rate, zero home runs allowed, 1.51 ERA, and 2.84 FIP. That's really great production. But he was doing it at AAA and he also had a 10.8% walk rate which is rather high. Needless to say, I wasn't quite sold. I wanted to see what he would do at the major league level.
I didn't have to wait too long into the 2014 season to find out. He made his return to the Brewers pen on July 23. He stayed in the pen the rest of the season tossing 28.2 innings with a 21.9 K%, 6.1 BB%, 61.5 GB%, 0.31 HR/9, 1.88 ERA, and 2.57 FIP. It was more really great production. The strike outs dipped to around league average, but the walk rate dropped dramatically. I was impressed, but also aware that anything can happen in 28 innings. It gave me hope for his future, but I still wanted more data.
And we did get more information last year. Exactly 68 more innings of information to be precise. He logged a 23.5 K%, 7.7 BB%, 58.2 GB%, 0.66 HR/9, 2.65 ERA, and 3.22 FIP. It was yet more really good production. It wasn't elite, but pretty good for what began as a minor league signing. And the continued lowered walk rate was particularly encouraging.
All throughout his development and short bursts at the major league level his walk rates were a problem. But since coming to the Brewers he seems to have solved those issues. According to FanGraphs, walk rates stabilize after 170 batters faced. With the Brewers, Jeffress has faced 399 batters--285 last year alone. So it's probably safe to work under the assumption that Jeffress' walk rate can continue to hover around league average.
Given his improved control, extreme ground ball profile, upper echelon velocity, and just enough strike outs Jeremy Jeffress makes for an interesting high leverage reliever. He'll get a chance to close for the Brewers this year and, with Will Smith likely to be a hot commodity at the trade deadline, could end up with the full time job locked down by the end of the season. He's come a long way since the Brewers first drafted him and it's finally looking like this story will have a happy ending. Well, he's only 28 so let's go with happy middle!
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs