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  • Can Ryan Jeffers Hit With Consistency?


    Jamie Cameron

    Ryan Jeffers burst onto the scene with exciting offensive numbers in 2020 before struggling offensively in 2021. Which is the real Ryan Jeffers? What does his offensive performance mean for the Twins catching situation in 2022?

    Image courtesy of Nick Wosika - USA Today Sports

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    In 2020, Ryan Jeffers burst onto the scene like a supernova, crushing major league pitching to the tune of a 120 wRC+ in his maiden MLB season. Although a small sample size (62 plate appearances in a pandemic-shortened season), Jeffers’ emergence wasn’t completely surprising. Before being called up, the bat-first catcher drafted by the front office out of UNC Wilmington had crushed minor league pitching, averaging a 135 wRC+ between High-A and Double-A in 2019.

    Then, 2021 happened. Jeffers' star came crashing back down to earth. In 2021, he managed an 82 wRC+ and spent a significant amount of time at Triple-A St. Paul. So who is the real Ryan Jeffers? Can he ascend to his 2019 heights in 2022? What does the performance of his bat mean for Minnesota’s potentially dynamic catching tandem?

    Jeffers’ Range of Outcomes
    In 2020, Jeffers carried a BABIP of .364, unsustainably good. In 2021, it fell to .236, unsustainable bad. Could 2020 and 2021 simply be indicators of Jeffers’ one hundredth and first percentile outcomes, respectively? Possibly. But digging into Jeffers’ underlying numbers shows some interesting trends and opportunities to improve. 

    What was Different in 2021?
    Scanning Jeffers’ underlying hitting numbers raises no immediate cause for alarm. In 2021, he increased his Barrel% from 13.9% to 14.5%, his Hard Hit% from 41.7% to 44%. Additionally, his max exit velocity remained consistent with 2020. We know Ryan Jeffers can destroy baseballs. So what changed?

    Despite some improvements in hard contact, Jeffers’ xBA fell from .232 to .211, his xwWOBA from .332 to .300. Why? Jeffers had less effective control of the strike zone and made contact less often in 2021. While Jeffers’ BB% remained consistent with his 2020 numbers, his o-swing% (the amount he swings at pitches outside the strike zone) increased sharply, from 26% to 33%. Indeed, his z-swing% (the amount he swings at pitches inside the zone) increased 5% from his 2020 numbers. In short, Jeffers was significantly less selective in 2021, which led to a sharp increase in K% from 2020.

    It’s also worth noting the quality of the contact Jeffers made against various pitches in 2021. Looking at his exit velocities against each pitch type, it’s noticeable that he is hitting the ball less solidly against fastballs and off-speed pitches in 2021.
    1241559212_ExitVelo.jpeg.ba7988ba8f49b802502b5a5534f03f59.jpeg

    It’s also notable that Jeffers’ average launch angle against the pitches increased significantly last season. In other words, he is swinging underneath fastballs and off-speed pitches more frequently, generating more fly balls and pop-ups. In combination with a decrease in his control of the strike zone, this led to his overall offensive decline in 2021.
    323958667_LaunchAngle.jpeg.e3406fe89e001d0fc6f1c74507ab91a6.jpeg

    What about 2022?
    How do we evaluate Jeffers as a catching option going into 2022? It’s worth noting here that Jeffers is a solid catcher and ranked in the 74th percentile in MLB for pitch framing in 2021 (remarkable for a player who did not have a catching coach in college). If Jeffers falls roughly between his 2020 and 2021 numbers next season, his offensive performance would equate to approximately a 100wRC+, a league-average hitter, but above league average for a catcher, with the pop we have come to expect from his bat. While there has been some speculation that Mitch Garver could be traded, I think it is more likely that the Twins rotate their catchers heavily through the DH spot next season. I’m intrigued by the possibility of Jeffers making adjustments from a poor offensive output in 2021.
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    What are your thoughts on the starting catching situation in 2022? Do you think Jeffers can bounce back? Are you in favor of trading a catcher? Join the discussion below.

     

     

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    They need to keep both Garver and Jeffers. They have no one else ready to step in as Rortvetd showed he hits even worse than Jeffers at this point. Could it be that someone tried to get Jeffers to hit more HR thus explaining why he is swinging under the ball and missing more often? Shame on them if that happened and hope he reverts back to his swing of 2020.

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    42 minutes ago, farmerguychris said:

    Hope we can keep both Garver and Jeffers as our backstops for another year.  Give them more time to see how good Jeffers can be, and don't really feel good about who would be an acceptable #2 if one of them were traded for a position so frequently injured.

    I agree, I'd prefer to keep both!

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    Jeffers is young and a full season of MLB is a beast coming from college and the minor leagues for any young player. A catcher has more responsibilities, by far, than any other player on the field and the preparation is massive and exhausting for a young player. Jeffers will be fine. 

    You also asked about whether the Twins should trade a catcher. I say yes and I think quite highly of both Garver and Jeffers. Although I have not seen anything specific, I believe there are a few other teams that also think very positively of both catchers. Additionally, while I am aware of how overmatched Rortvedt looked at the plate, he also is good behind the plate and rebounded at St. Paul in September. The only concern was the concussion late in the year. I'm a believer in Rortvedt right now and could see a good pitcher coming back for Garver. 

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    Jeffers looked pretty rough in the more extensive exposure to MLB pitching this year. He's moved up the ladder pretty quickly so getting a feel for Jeffers' bat is tough as there just isn't a lot to look at from the high minors. Jeffers really struggled against the slider and sinker in 2021 whereas he handled the slider very well in 2020 and was neutral on the sinker. Jeffers was also much pull heavy in 2021 after using all the fields in 2020.

    Honestly, Jeffers' performance in 2021 shows very little luck involved. His wOBA and xWOBA were close. He just struck out a lot more, walked less, and didn't hit balls as hard as he did in 2020.

    It's too early to tell if Jeffers can make the adjustments he needs to make in order to be average or better at the plate. Being a catcher, he can provide value at wRC+ 90 or better, it's just not ideal.

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    I never fully bought in to the Twins having an outstanding hitting tandem at catcher for 2021 simply because Jeffers was promoted rather quickly and had a wonderful, tantalizing, but very SSS for 2020. I expected regression and some struggles simply because of that SSS. 

    If we want to use an extremely rough projection, 50 grit sandpaper type of rough, we could compare 2020 and 2021 and figure out some medium that he can't hit .273 but he's also better than .199 so he's a .240-ish hitter with power and great defense. That's a quality and long career player who might even make a couple All Star teams.

    But he's almost a clone of Garver. A bat first draftee who hits in college, hits in the minors, shows power, and vastly improves his defense. IMO, he just needs a little time to learn, adapt, and make adjustments. 

    IMO, though the Twins have needs on the hill, they need to keep both Garver and Jeffers. I believe moving either at this point weakens a potential and envious position on the team. And I don't like weakening the team at a crucial spot when there are other means to add. I am very encouraged by what I've seen from Rortvedt defensively. And while not a great hitter, he's made some solid progress with the bat in his time up the milb ladder. But like Celestino, he was pressed in to ML time too early. And I'm very pleased tbat he seemed to learn and adjust and take that to St Paul to finish the season strong. I think he's got a future. But his immediate 2022 future should be at AAA sharing time with another,  solid AAAA veteran type to hone his skills.

    I think Jeffers is going to be quite good. And there's room for him to start a lot of games with Garver also spending a little time at DH. But you need to keep both right now, with Rortvedt and player "X" at St Paul.

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    11 hours ago, RpR said:

    Jeffer's hitting is what it is; his defense needs LOTS of work, trade him.

    His defense is solid. Both Fangraphs & Baseball Reference like him and he passes the eye test. He's not Yadier Molina, but he improved his throwing and was nearly league average in catching stealers. There's room for improvement, but he's not bad.

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    12 hours ago, jmlease1 said:

    His defense is solid. Both Fan graphs & Baseball Reference like him and he passes the eye test. He's not Yadier Molina, but he improved his throwing and was nearly league average in catching stealers. There's room for improvement, but he's not bad.

    Liking him means squat:

    2021

    Rtot   -1

    Rtot/yr  -2

    Rf/9  8.80 --  Rf/G  7.81  ---- League Rf/9  9.35  League Rf/G  9.13

    Close is good enough, LOL,  Defense is sub-par.

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    11 hours ago, RpR said:

    Liking him means squat:

    2021

    Rtot   -1

    Rtot/yr  -2

    Rf/9  8.80 --  Rf/G  7.81  ---- League Rf/9  9.35  League Rf/G  9.13

    Close is good enough, LOL,  Defense is sub-par.

    You've gone from saying "his defense needs lots of work" and he should be traded for it to it's "sub-par". sub-par in Jeffers' case means he's a bit below average (by some metrics). He's far from the Butcher of Cairo back there and has a bright future as a catcher in MLB. You want to trade him because the value we could extract for him is worth moving him now rather than later...fine. But he's not a bad defender back there.

    It's really hard to find catchers that offer both offensive and defensive value. Jeffers has shown the skills to be one of those guys.

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    14 hours ago, jmlease1 said:

    You've gone from saying "his defense needs lots of work" and he should be traded for it to it's "sub-par". sub-par in Jeffers' case means he's a bit below average (by some metrics). He's far from the Butcher of Cairo back there and has a bright future as a catcher in MLB. You want to trade him because the value we could extract for him is worth moving him now rather than later...fine. But he's not a bad defender back there.

    It's really hard to find catchers that offer both offensive and defensive value. Jeffers has shown the skills to be one of those guys.

    OK, he is a lousy catcher, trade him, put Rortvedt in, his defense looks to be as good as Mauer.

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    While I would LIKE to keep them both, it's a luxury the Twins cannot afford with two rookies the only two guys they have penciled in to their rotation next year and both likely on innings limits.  Gosh, who WOULDN'T want to keep them both if we just had a starting rotation.  I would rather keep Garver because he's a better hitter right now and because Jeffers is the "Catcher of the Future" that the Marlins desperately need.  The Marlins have the same dilemma, who wouldn't want to keep all those talented young pitchers ??  They just simply don't have a catcher worth a darn.  It's a match that SHOULD happen, and if Larnach or Kepler are involved in the deal the Twins should be able to bring back two promising arms.   here's a possible trade:

    Twins get:  Sixto Sanchez  27.5 and Max Meyer  22.2  =  49.70

    Marlins get:  Jeffers 19.2   Larnach 18.9  Canterino  9.6 and Strotman  3.9  = 51.60

    Slight overpay for the Twins but they add two young arms with HUGE upsides who are already in or on the verge of, being Big Leaguers.  The Marlins get their catcher of the future, a young corner OF'er with a potentially big bat, and Canterino and Strotman to replace the arms they lost.  Look, the Twins have a BUNCH of arms with potential in their farm system, but none who will be ready to compete for a Big league spot until at least the All Star break next year.  Sanchez and Meyer would step right in.  Rortvedt spends about half the season in St. Paul to determine if he's ready.  Sign a LH Jason Castro type to back up Garver.  Yes, it's a bit of an over pay.  How else do you expect to add two arms like Sanchez and Meyer ??

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    10 hours ago, TopGunn#22 said:

    While I would LIKE to keep them both, it's a luxury the Twins cannot afford with two rookies the only two guys they have penciled in to their rotation next year and both likely on innings limits.  Gosh, who WOULDN'T want to keep them both if we just had a starting rotation.  I would rather keep Garver because he's a better hitter right now and because Jeffers is the "Catcher of the Future" that the Marlins desperately need.  The Marlins have the same dilemma, who wouldn't want to keep all those talented young pitchers ??  They just simply don't have a catcher worth a darn.  It's a match that SHOULD happen, and if Larnach or Kepler are involved in the deal the Twins should be able to bring back two promising arms.   here's a possible trade:

    Twins get:  Sixto Sanchez  27.5 and Max Meyer  22.2  =  49.70

    Marlins get:  Jeffers 19.2   Larnach 18.9  Canterino  9.6 and Strotman  3.9  = 51.60

    Slight overpay for the Twins but they add two young arms with HUGE upsides who are already in or on the verge of, being Big Leaguers.  The Marlins get their catcher of the future, a young corner OF'er with a potentially big bat, and Canterino and Strotman to replace the arms they lost.  Look, the Twins have a BUNCH of arms with potential in their farm system, but none who will be ready to compete for a Big league spot until at least the All Star break next year.  Sanchez and Meyer would step right in.  Rortvedt spends about half the season in St. Paul to determine if he's ready.  Sign a LH Jason Castro type to back up Garver.  Yes, it's a bit of an over pay.  How else do you expect to add two arms like Sanchez and Meyer ??

    My hope was to pry away Alcantara and Meyer by enticing Miami with Lewis, in addition to Larnach, their choice of catcher, Canterino, and Strotman or Vallimont. Miami is not likely to give up Alcantara and the Twins do not want to part with Lewis, so the trade above by TopGun#22 is a huge boost for both Miami and Minnesota. It is cost effective for both teams too and allows both teams to consider buying a free agent or two. Suddenly, Gray, Pineda, and possibly Stroman are fits in a fair budget. 

    The post was asking about Jeffers though and he is going to be a very decent MLB catcher. I have no concerns about his bat and am sure he will continue to improve as a catcher. I'm a little confused how someone can be down on him after just a year and a half. Catcher is far and away the most demanding and difficult position in baseball and he has held his own as a young player. If he remains a Twin, I am excited to see his continued growth. I will add that I may be higher than some others on Ben Rortvedt, especially his glove and arm.  BR does need another half to full year of development however.

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