Jeremy Jeffress performed well for the Cubs – but he may have been lucky.
As Craig Kimbrel worked through an array of issues for much of the season, the Cubs turned to right-hander Jeremy Jeffress in the ninth inning. He closed the door eight times in the shortened 60-game season and turned in an eye-catching 1.54 ERA.
Without him stepping into the closer’s role, the team’s shaky bullpen picture would have been even more uncertain. That being said, Chicago needs to think long and hard before bringing the veteran back in 2021.
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As I noted, his earned run average was nothing short of outstanding. But if you dig even just a little deeper, the numbers immediately paint a picture that’s far more concerning.
Jeffress finished the year with a 4.09 FIP, suggesting he was the benefactor of strong defense behind him. The right-hander didn’t miss a lot of bats, seeing his strikeout rate fall and walk rate increase when compared to his career averages.
He ranked in the top nine percent of the league in terms of barrel rate. Again, you’d think that means he did his job and did it well. But there’s more to his performance than that one statistic.
Jeffress clocked in in the bottom 10 percent of the league in hard-hit rate and the bottom quarter of arms in terms of average exit velocity. What does all this mean? The former Brewers hurler managed to keep teams off the board. But there should be concern as to whether or not he can replicate this success moving forward.
If Theo Epstein decides to bring Jeffress back into the fold for 2021, the team needs to go into that arrangement knowing there’s a pretty solid chance for regression. Having a hard-throwing sinkerballer in your arsenal is hardly a bad thing. But thinking this guy is gonna be an elite late-inning presence seems like a stretch.
This year, the bullpen experienced its share of ups and downs. Kimbrel regained his form late in the season and, depending on the Cubs’ course of action, he’ll get the ninth inning to open next year or he’ll serve as a valuable trade chip. Rowan Wick‘s year was cut short by injury and Kyle Ryan struggled to get his feet under him.
Finding a buy-low guy similar to what they did with Jeffress last winter will undoubtedly be part of the plan for Chicago. But they need to understand what they’d be adding if they bring him back for next season because I’d be shocked if he’s able to do what he did this year again in 2021.