With Sam Dyson having completely lost control of his pitches, the strike zone, and subsequently his job with the Rangers, a few warning lights obviously flashed for Texas. That siren might now be singing for Jeremy Jeffress. Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers along with Jonathan Lucroy, Jeffress may not have been the marquee name his battery-mate was, but was every bit a key acquisition for Jon Daniels’ 2016 squad.
The 29-year old had assumed the closer role on the Brew Crew during the 2016 season, compiling 27 saves in 28 opportunities with a 2.22 ERA, 1.254 WHIP, 2.2 Walks/9 and 7.1 K/9. Upon coming over to the Rangers, his main stats didn’t differ too much – in 12 games, Jeffress held a 2.70 ERA and a 1.254 WHIP.
Even following a DWI arrest, Jeffress was still viewed as a key piece at the end of the season. Going into the 2017 campaign, Jeffress’ presence was going to be counted on heavily.
The other peripherals may have been a precursor of what to expect. While Jeffress’ ERA and WHIP held the line, he doubled his walk rate to 4.7 Walks/9 and incidentally dropped his strikeout rate to the same number.
With a hits/9 that dropped from 9.1 to 6.8, Jeffress was adopting the Rangers mentality for pitchers who don’t have a fastball above 95 MPH; that is, pitch to contact and let the defense handle the plays. Down the stretch, the Rangers featured some pretty decent defense.
This year, what’s changed? Jeffress is still pitching to contact, but it might appear that he’s not missing far enough out of the zone. Nibbling at the corners would help to explain the increased walk rate – Jeffress sat at 2.8 for all of 2016 and that has skyrocketed this year to 5.3.
Perhaps one of the most stunning stats for Jeremy Jeffress is that on his two-seam fastball, the pitch he throws more often than any other pitch, hitters are making contact on pitches out of the zone at a rate of 82.1%. That’s not nearly as nice as last year’s out-of-zone contact rate of 69%, and is, in fact, higher than his previous high in 2014 of 79.2%.
It gets stranger. This year, Jeffress is throwing that two-seamer/sinker for a strike only 5.4% of the time. The batting average of opposing hitters against that particular pitch? A robust .372. His location chart shows a good chunk of pitches going down and into right handers and several outside the conventional strike zone.
That’s all well and fine, but what does it all mean? The answer is going to be sadly simple. Take a look at the batting average against each of Jeffress’ pitches over April and May.
Also, from April to May, Jeffress’ pitches started losing some of their movement. It’s definitely not by a wide margin, but if you’re going to be living on the corners, as Jeffress is nowadays, a half an inch here or there can make a marked difference in contact rate and walk rate.
What would cause a lack of movement and sharpness? Nibbling and trying to locate pitches will contribute some to that, but there’s another factor – fatigue.
Jeffress has been Jeff Banister’s most used reliever in 2017. He’s made 25 appearances, one more than the next reliever, Alex Claudio. Jeffress still tops the most appearances list despite the fact that he hasn't appeared once so far this month.
With Dyson struggling and Keone Kela demoted, Jeffress was used in 14 games in April, compared to just nine times in his previous year in the same time span. For a pitcher who is still relatively new to the high leverage, winning bullpen piece role, that can be cause for concern. For right now, the answer to righting Jeremy Jeffress’ ship is very simply to stay away from Jeffress when you can.
That’s a very easy thing to say, but in a bullpen where it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find reliable relievers, it’s a very difficult task to accomplish.
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