Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’15 – #21 Jeremy Jeffress

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Three weeks less a day until this countdown is over. That’s because A) I no longer and never again will preview anyone with one day remaining and B) we’re just three weeks away from Opening Day on April 6 at Miller Park!!!ExclamationPoint!!

The wearer of number 21 gets our focus today, and he is…

Jeremy Jeffress.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers-Photo Day

It was the 6th day of June in 2006 when the Milwaukee Brewers made Jeremy Ross Jeffress the 16th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. He signed a day later and embarked on a journey that would eventually bring him full circle for you see Jeffress has not always been a Brewer.

A high school kid out of South Boston, Virginia, Jeffress was considered a quality pick in the middle of the first round. He would make his MLB debut for Milwaukee just under three weeks before his 23rd birthday as a 2010 September call up. There was seemingly more motivation at the time than merely trying to determine whether he was ready to consistently get out Major League hitters. Jeffress was on the verge of being banned for baseball for life.

As the promising fireballer was working his way through the minor leagues, he had been suspended twice for positive tests “involving a drug of abuse”. Two suspensions (for 50 and 100 games respectively) meant that Jeffress was busted three times. The most recent one began at the tail end of June 2009. He had reportedly undergone rehab following his first suspension in 2007, if I recall correctly, and likely just relapsed after a while.

Jeffress ended up missing the rest of the 2009 season as well as over a month of the 2010 season. He needed to be added to the 40-man roster anyway after 2010 or risk Rule 5 Draft exposure, so the Brewers got him on earlier than necessary and pitched him that September. He walked six in just 10.0 innings of work, but also struck out eight and kept his ERA at 2.70. All small sample size stuff, but the velocity was certainly there for him as well.

To his credit, Jeffress finally gave up his habit and had been getting his life right on and off the field. He credits the birth of his daughter as one of the turning points in his life. He also had an underlying medical issue that he has since gotten under control, that being seizures. With proper medication, he’s physically and mentally in the best place he’s ever been and the results are showing in the box scores.

Jeffress was notably a piece in the off-season trade with the Kansas City Royals that brought Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. Jeffress would pitch in 27 games for the Royals over two seasons without much success. A major source of his problems came from command. He was walking a ton of batters. Suffice it to say that as his walk rate has plummeted over the last few years, his results have gotten better and better.

2011: 6.5 BB/9, 4.70 ERA in 14 games
2012: 8.8 BB/9, 6.75 ERA in 13 games
2013: 4.4 BB/9, 0.87 ERA in 10 games
2014 Milwaukee only: 2.2 BB/9, 1.88 ERA in 29 games with a career-best 3.57 K/BB ratio

Jeffress has also shown the ability to miss bats which definitely helps him escape jams whether they be self-created or inherited. Coupled with less base runners (a career-best 1.186 WHIP for Milwaukee in 2014), his skills are begin to amalgamate into a high-leverage reliever with possible 9th inning duties in the future. Still just 27, Jeffress could pitch for another decade if he continues to refine those skills which have gotten him this far.

As for 2015, Jeffress is currently slotted in a setup role mostly tasked with getting three outs in and around the 7th inning. At times he might be used as a right-handed sub for Jonathan Broxton in the 8th inning if Broxton needs a day off. Other times he might be called upon to get a key out prior to the 7th should the game be on the line early. But paired with the left-handed Will Smith, the two hard throwers will be a tough combination to crack for opposing lineups.

Workign in tandem with Smith could be a great thing for Jeffress because if there’s one other thing on which Jeffress can work to improve, it’s getting out left-handed hitters. His splits were pretty rough in 2014.

vs. RHH – .221/.274/.235 – 68 AB, 15 H, 1 2B, 5 BB, 20 K, .313 BAbip
vs. LHH – .392/.458/.510 – 51 AB, 20 H, 3 2B, 1 HR, 5 BB, 9 K, .452 BAbip

So while some of that is bad luck, there’s enough of a trend that it’s something worth keeping track of, especially if Jeffress is passed over for a particular inning simply because of the handedness of the hitters due up.

All that said, I expect a very strong contribution from Jeffress in 2015 as the Brewers hope to have a lock down bullpen securing the wins that the rest of the team has put them in place to grab.

You can follow Jeremy on Twitter: @JMontana41

Catch up on the countdown!

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