When it’s crunch time during the postseason, one of the most important aspects of building a winner is a very solid bullpen. You can have the greatest starting rotation in the game and an above average offense and still do absolutely nothing in the postseason. I speak from experience as a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan.
In 2014 the Tigers were swept by the Baltimore Orioles while the Tigers rotation included three Cy Young winners in David Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer as well as future Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. So when I look at who’s likely to go deep into the postseason the very first thing I look at is the bullpen; without a decent or above average bullpen, you have little to no chance.
Jeremy Jeffress is one key piece of a Milwaukee Brewers bullpen that looks dangerous. We saw the explosion of Corey Knebel last season when he unequivocally dominated in his first year as closer. Then this year we’ve all seen the rise of Josh Hader and how he’s burst onto the scene. After being bounced between the Texas Rangers and Brewers in back to back seasons via trades, Jeffress has settled into a late innings role for the Brewers and he’s been more successful than he’s ever been before. Baring unforeseen circumstances Jeffress will top his previous career high for innings pitched in a season of 68, as he’s at 67 as of Friday morning.
But that’s not the most impressive thing Jeffress has done. So far he’s second among relievers in ballpark adjusted ERA and base-out runs saved, as well as third in win percentage added—truly elite numbers given the role he’s had as well as how many different roles he’s been in. Coming into the game as early as the fifth inning and as late as the ninth inning often causes problems for most relievers.
However, he’s doing a few things very well that have enabled him to reach the level of success that he has this year. First he’s getting lots of movement on all four of his pitches (four-seam, two-seam, splitter and knuckle-curve). Second, he’s tunneling his pitches so that batters are not able to tell which pitch is coming. Thirdly, he’s mixing in all four of his pitches in all counts and is locating his pitches in a way that is giving him maximum success. The movement on all four of his pitches is quite remarkable. His four-seamer, two-seamer and knuckle-curve are all averaging at least four inches of both horizontal and vertical movement.
As always, looking at the tunneling tells a lot of the story behind a pitcher’s success or failure. It certainly does here as it’s clear that Jeffress is above average at keeping his pitches tight together until about 15 feet from the plate.
The most surprising thing about the approach Jeffress has is how he mixes in all four of his pitches in any count.
To better illustrate the incredible command Jeffress has, here is a chart that shows all of the called and swinging strike three’s that he’s received so far this season.
While there are a few pitches close to the center of the plate, almost all of the pitches are located along the edges of the strike zone. This is what has fueled a strikeout rate over 28 percent as well as what has allowed him to limit the damage against him.
The pairing of Jeffress’ location, tunneling, and movement is allowing him to put up some crazy numbers. All four of his pitch types are getting at least 24 percent of non-contact strikes and his average non-contact strikes overall is 31.4 percent. Furthermore, the limited damaged I just mentioned is very clear; he’s only allowed 12 extra base hits against him while facing 266 batters. As a result, individually, the weighted on-base average against each of Jeffress’ four pitches in quite impressive.
Jeffress’ wOBA by Pitch Type
Even more impressive is the numbers against him overall:
Jeffress’ Overall Averages
While Jeffress might not be mentioned as much as Hader or Knebel, without him Knebel and Hader would’t have the opportunity to do what they do. He’s the backbone of the Brewers bullpen and has pitched successfully in a variety of roles. With the trio of Knebel, Jeffress and Hader in the Brewers bullpen, they’ll have a good shot of a deeper postseason run if the rest of their chips fall into place.