Milwaukee Brewers: Is Jeremy Jeffress the key to the bullpen?

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 17: Jeremy Jeffress
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 17: Jeremy Jeffress /

Milwaukee Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress doesn’t get saves. He doesn’t rack up strikeouts in bunches. He doesn’t have ridiculously awesome hair. However, Jeffress has been the key to the Brewers recent run of success.

Jeremy Jeffress has appeared in 13 of the Milwaukee Brewers first 23 games. He’s worked 12 2/3 innings, and he owns a 0.71 ERA. Jeffress has only walked two, while striking out 11. He’s actually allowed more walks than runs. Is Jeffress really this good?

What do the peripheral numbers say?

Well, they don’t say that he can continue to post a sub-1.00 ERA. They do say that he’s been solid. Not ‘sub-1.00 ERA’ solid, but a capable member of the Milwaukee Brewers relief corps.

His 2.61 xFIP indicates that his actual 0.71 ERA is a mirage, but he’s still pitching like a sub-3.00 ERA pitcher. His 88.9% strand rate is about 10-percent above his career average. Jeffress also has a .226 BABIP against which is 90 points lower than his .316 career average. He’s going to regress, but he’s still really good.

His 7.82 K/9 is the highest he’s posted since 2015, while his 1.42 BB/9 is a career low at the Major League level.

What about his velocity?

Jeffress has lost about 1-to-1.5 MPH off each of his pitches across the board. It’s still April, and most guys don’t reach peak velocity until July or August. What matters more for relievers is how hitters react to their stuff. He’s getting out and keeping guys off balance. The lower velocity isn’t an issue right now.

Can Jeffress keep this up?

An 0.71 ERA? No. No one can maintain that pace.

What’s concerning is the rate at which Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell is relying on Jeffress. He’s worked in over 50-percent of the games to date. Counsell burned out his bullpen in April last year, and it appears that history is repeating itself in 2018. Jeffress is on pace to work close to 90 innings. Jeffress has never thrown more than 68 in a season. If Counsell continues to lean so heavily on Jeffress, he’ll wear down sooner, and the ERA will start to rise.

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Jacob Barnes worked a ton of innings in April and May of last year, and paid for it with a rough June. Don’t be shocked if Jeffress loses effectiveness if he continues to rack up innings.