Pitching on a bargain contract to show that he was healthy and could be effective even after he’d lost his peak velocity, Jeremy Jeffress got fantastic results for the Cubs in 2020.
The 33-year-old righty allowed just four earned runs TOTAL over his 23.1 innings pitched, and was clearly David Ross’s most trusted reliever when it came to thorny situations, whenever they popped up. Jeffress pitched clean setup innings, came into dirty bridge innings, often got the 10th inning with the runner on base, and even closed when Craig Kimbrel wasn’t quite ready. You cannot say enough about how successful Jeffress was for the Cubs in the shortened year, and how unsurprising it is that the Cubs are mentioned as wanting him back:
Jeffress has posted a sub-2.00 ERA and sub-1.000 WHIP in two of the past three seasons (including 2020), ranking 5th among MLB relievers in ERA since the start of 2018. His effectiveness against both RH (.206) and LH (.211) since start of 2018 explains why he’s gaining attention.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) January 18, 2021
The rub with Jeffress, of course, is that his peripherals more or less never match his results, and that was exacerbated in the extreme last year. Although he had a mere 1.54 ERA, his 4.09 FIP was more reflective of a pedestrian 19.3% K rate and a downright bad 13.6% BB rate. His hard/soft contact rates were kinda ugly, his .161 BABIP was nearly half his career rate, and his 84.1% LOB rate was pretty out of whack with career norms. There is no question that he was lucky.
But as we’ve discussed – as recently as this weekend! – you can’t just ascribe all the success to good luck when a veteran reliever is seeing results that outpace his peripherals. Jeffress probably “earned” more of his good results than the peripherals will tell you, because he really was probably better able to pitch to the situation than we might have previously given a guy like him credit.
Anyway, that is all to say, you have to bake in some regression in the results if you’re aiming for Jeffress, but you might also be intrigued by the possibility that he’s going to age well after his drop in velocity. My guess is no team is going to make him a huge offer given the short season and the wonky peripherals, but I would also guess that a whole lot of teams would happily give him a big league deal at SOME level and put him right into the bullpen today.