Brewing up bullpen success: Jeffress the elixir to what ails Texas

Watching Texas Rangers baseball in July has been tough.

Even with four days in a row off, it feels like the team has lost every single game this month. You’re not too far off; they’ve officially lost four series in a row with only won one game in each of those. Most of the problems during this stretch can be attributed to the starting rotation. After losing Colby Lewis and Derek Holland for two months each, both while Yu Darvish was already on the disabled list, the Rangers were suddenly forced into patching together a “Who’s That?” of rotation fill-ins that haven’t come close to replicating what the three aforementioned names contributed.

So certainly the argument can be made that a starter is a pressing need. By that same token though, with the team’s rotation going only four and five innings as opposed to six and seven, the tax on the bullpen becomes more intense. While it’s fun seeing Tony Barnette, Shawn Tolleson, and Alex Claudio go more than just three outs, the same principle applies to those relievers as it does to the “Big Three”: you can’t be relying on those same pitchers every single day. The bullpen is tired, and despite having the four games off during the All-Star Break, the bullpen has racked up almost 300 innings of work. If nothing else, the team needs a reliever that can help spread out the workload. Going deeper, when this team starts clicking on all cylinders again, it would be a great asset to have a reliever who can shorten the game.

Enter Jeremy Jeffress.

28 years old. Controllable for three more seasons. Seven seasons of big league experience, with less than 200 Major League innings of stress on his arm TOTAL. And “very much available” according to Chris Cotillo at MLB Daily Dish. Jeffress represents an ideal, high leverage, hard throwing, ground ball inducing arm that can be added insurance for Matt Bush, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson.

Whereas Tom Wilhelmsen had shown signs of deterioration before being acquired by the Rangers, Jeffress has shown that he’s getting better as he starts to find his identity as Milwaukee’s closer. His coming out party was last year, appearing in 72 games and pitching to a 2.35 ERA, giving up just 20 earned runs, posting nearly a 9 K/9, equaling just about a 3:1 K/BB ratio. This year he’s cut back on the strikeouts, but has a 57.4% ground ball rate, something that would play well into the Texas defense. He’s successfully converted 23 of 24 saves, giving up just 10 earned runs in his 40 appearances. He’s still maintaining around a 3:1 K/BB ratio and has a career 3.36 FIP.

The Repertoire

Jeffress is a sinker/curve pitcher, relying on his movement to induce late or weak contact to the tune of 67% ground balls on contact when he throws his sinker and 48% when he throws the curve. Here’s a Brooks Baseball breakdown of his pitch usage and velocity this year.

  • 4-Seam Fastball: 12%, 97 MPH
  • Sinker: 61%, 97 MPH
  • Curve ball: 22%, 82 MPH
  • Change-Up: 5%, 91 MPH

The usage of his sinker as his primary pitch is a continuing development, as he started out his career being primarily a 4-seam fastball pitcher before making the permanent concentration on his sinker in 2013. He used the sinker around 70% of the time in 2014, dropped it to 54% last year, and has used it with much success at his current rate.

The Cost

Just because Jeffress is on a non-contending team doesn’t mean he’s going to come dirt cheap. Before the Miami Marlins traded 8th round pick Chris Paddack, the 6’4″ Austin native, to San Diego for Fernando Rodney, the wild card hopeful Marlins asked the Brewers about Jeffress.

When you consider that Rodney is a far more accomplished and proven closer than Jeffress is, that puts the price tag at “pretty steep” for the 28 year old stud. As far as the Rangers go, not only is leverage NOT on their side, given recent performance of the big league team, but because their farm system is considerably deeper and rated higher, the asking price is going to be a lot steeper for Texas.

Keep in mind that Milwaukee doesn’t plan on contending for more than a couple of years. In fact, they released a letter to the public, stating that the next few years were going to be tough for them as fans. Looking around their starting nine, the most obvious holes to fill down the line look to be at center field, third base and, of course, pitching.

Shutdown Inning’s Minor League Specialist Grant Schiller did some comparison work and suggests that Milwaukee’s asking price from Texas might start with starter Pedro Payano(Hickory) and former first-round draft pick Travis Demeritte(High Desert). Payano is in his fourth season with the Rangers organization, having pitched in the Dominican Summer League until 2015, when he moved to the Arizona Rookie League. After a bumpy start to his professional career, Payano has put up some highly impressive numbers, amassing to this point a 27-15 record with a 2.69 ERA over 60 starts. He’s adjusted well to his promotions, bulldozing through them with the earnest of The Juggernaut (that is, he can’t be stopped). Filling out his frame and being able to maintain a fastball in the low to mid 90’s will serve him well as he matures through his career, which already includes four complete game shutouts and almost a no-hitter.

Demeritte, the Rangers’ first round pick in 2013, is a versatile infielder who was drafted as a shortstop, moved over to second base and has played third base. He’s definitely shown the ability to hit for power, and his 21 homers thus far seem to play more as a third baseman. Fresh off of an appearance in the MLB Futures Game, Demeritte has shown that the 80 game suspension last year hasn’t affected his performance entering this season. With a long-term infield logjam at Texas’ major league level, Demeritte is playing himself into being a valuable trade asset.

Remember how I said that center field could be a potential gap to fill? Also, remember how the Brewers might likely not contend for a while? Another low level prospect could either be a sweetener or a deal maker. Throw in 2015 second rounder Eric Jenkins, and, assuming Jeffress continues as he is currently, you’ve got yourself a nice even deal. Touted more as a speed threat, Jenkins is still 19, and has a lot to learn about how to get on base. When his baseballs find the outfield, he flies with the best of them; so far in Hickory this season Jenkins has 40 stolen bases. Sure, he’s been caught ten times but you can’t win if you don’t play. Those legs also render him a closing speed threat in the outfield. Give his bat some time to mature, and the Brew Crew could have a nice looking general in their 2020 outfield.

The Proposal

As you might read it on Twitter or some other baseball news site:

  • “#Rangers acquire Jeffress from MIL. Send Demeritte, P. Payano, Jenkins. TEX gets long-term insurance for worn-out bullpen. #MLBTradeDeadline”

Jeffress is an attractive piece to Texas, but he won’t come cheap. Jon Daniels will have to play his cards wisely to be able to acquire both him and a 3rd or 4th starter. Still, Jeffress is the kind of under the radar move that would be a huge boost to the big league team without severely bankrupting the minor league bank.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

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