Cubs 2020 roster outlook: Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago


Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is reliever Jeremy Jeffress

2019 recap

In January, the Cubs signed Jeremy Jeffress, former Milwaukee Brewers setup man, to a one-year, $800,000 deal. He had a career-high 5.02 ERA in 48 outings last season, a significant jump from the 1.29 ERA he posted in 73 outings in 2018.

Why the colossal decline? For one thing, Jeffress spent the first three weeks of the 2019 season sidelined with a right shoulder injury. Then in August, he hurt his hip and was released on Sept. 1.

Injuries can’t always be attributed to workload, but Jeffress, 32, tossed a career-high 76 2/3 innings in 2018. On that note, his four-seam fastball velocity dipped from 96.2 mph to 94.4 mph, on average, from 2018 to 2019. His other main pitches, a sinker and curveball, weren’t as effective as 2018, either.

-Sinker (2018): 28.6 percent usage, 95.7 mph average velocity, .224 BAA, 18.8 K%
-Sinker (2019): 34 percent usage, 93.9 mph average velocity, .310 BAA, 13.4 K%

-Curveball (2018): 30.8 percent usage, .151 batting average against, 40.3 K%
-Curveball (2019): 28.4 percent usage, .222 batting average against, 27.3 K%

Related: Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job

Expectations for this season’s role

Jeffress in the mix for a setup man gig. Whether he pitches in the fifth or eighth inning, the Cubs will use him in high-leverage spots to bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel. 

2020 outlook

Jeffress is a prime bounce-back candidate, but the overarching question is whether last season was an anomaly or the start of the veteran reliever’s decline.

On one hand, Jeffress posted sub-3 ERAs in four of the last six seasons —2019 and 2017 (4.68 ERA) being the exceptions. While this shows he has an ability to bounce back, it also underscores some enduring struggles over the past few seasons.

Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball. They’re often overused, leading to fatigue or injury. They’re armed with a couple of pitches, and when one isn’t working, they often run into trouble. We saw this with Jeffress last season.

After his first spring outing, Jeffress said he feels great and his hip is fully healed. If he pitches like a semblance of his 2018 self, it’ll help the Cubs fill the holes left by relievers Pedro Strop, Steve Cishek and Brandon Kintzler, who all signed elsewhere this winter.

The complete roster outlook series:

1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job

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