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2020 Marlins Season Preview: Jeff Brigham

With improved command, Brigham could emerge as a go-to arm out of the Marlins bullpen.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The annual tradition has returned. Leading up to Opening Day, Fish Stripes will be previewing the 2020 Marlins season, one player at a time. Find every article of the series here.

Where Did He Come From? Right-hander Jeff Brigham arrived in a complicated three-team trade on July 30, 2015 in which the Marlins dumped the contracts of Mat Latos and Mike Morse on the Dodgers. There were 13 total players involved.

2019 Performance

4.46 ERA | 5.07 FIP | 4.90 xFIP | 1.30 WHIP | -0.1 fWAR | 38.1 IP (MLB)

1.50 ERA | 2.55 FIP | 4.54 xFIP | 0.71 WHIP | 24.0 IP (Triple-A)

Brigham got his feet wet in the majors in September 2018, thanks in large part to injuries to Pablo López and Caleb Smith. But he struggled in his four starts, so when all the pitchers ahead of him on the depth chart made it through Spring Training with no issues, he unsurprisingly opened the new campaign back in Triple-A New Orleans.

Shortly after his 2019 regular season debut, Brigham landed on the injured list. The issue was minor enough that he didn’t require any sort of rehab assignment. The six-foot tall right-hander returned to action after three weeks on the shelf.

In May, Brigham caught fire:

  • 14 straight scoreless innings over nine appearances (all in relief)
  • Opponents batted 1-for-41 against him (.024 BA)
  • Lowered season earned run average from 9.00 to 1.13

The 27-year-old made it back to The Show at the very end of May, though he wasn’t quite there to stay—the Marlins optioned him on Jun. 20, Jun. 24 and Jul. 6. Following the Sergio Romo trade, he finally got an extended opportunity.

Brigham had long been developed by the Marlins to be a starter. In this new bullpen role, he completely ditched his changeup in favor of a two-pitch approach. With New Orleans and Miami combined, he threw an average of 22 pitches per outing, maxing out at 54. Those short spurts revitalized his fastball, as Statcast clocked him consistently in the 95-98 mph range.

However, Brigham’s slider demands even more attention. Just by looking at it, you can recognize something special happening here:

Brigham had a 48.6% slider usage rate with the Marlins. That is nearly half his total pitches thrown! And yet the results were outstanding: .184 xwOBA and 83.1 mph average exit velocity with only one extra-base hit allowed.

The late break on his slider is generated by his 2,991 RPM spin rate. Brigham’s average spin rate on that weapon was higher than Romo or any other Marlins pitcher in 2019. He ranked sixth in the majors among everybody who had a comparable or heavier workload, according to Statcast.

Highest Slider Spin Rate for MLB Pitchers in 2019 (min. 500 total pitches)

Name Slider RPM fWAR
Name Slider RPM fWAR
Sam Dyson 3,270 0.9
Kyle Crick 3,246 -0.7
Trent Thornton 3,089 1.9
Miguel Castro 3,029 0.4
Lucas Sims 3,004 0.4
Jeff Brigham 2,991 -0.1
Baseball Savant

Overall, unfortunately, Brigham had the bottomline results of a replacement-level pitcher. Opponents hammered his fastball despite the elite velo. Right-handed batters and lefties were similarly productive against him.

Don Mattingly seldom used Brigham in high-leverage situations, but he did make the most out of a Sept. 22 save opportunity versus the Nationals, retiring Trea Turner, Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon in order.

Off The Field

Born and raised in the Seattle, Washington metropolitan area, Brigham still makes his offseason home there. But in early 2019, he explained to The Marlins Catch podcast that he feels most effective pitching in the kind of high temperatures rarely seen in the Pacific Northwest. His splits with the Fish last year reflect that preference, as he was significantly better during the day (.222/.232/.333, 28.6 K%) than at night (.264/.362/.516, 21.9 K%).

He celebrated his 28th birthday on Sunday by spending some quality time with Pablo López’s dog, Bennie.

View this post on Instagram

Bennie and baseball

A post shared by Jeff Brigham (@jbrigs43) on

Follow Jeff Brigham on Instagram (@jbrigs43).

2020 Expectations

Safe to say that the ship has sailed on Brigham as a Marlins starting rotation candidate, so we turn our attention to where he fits in the bullpen mix. The club already has Brandon Kintzler, Ryne Stanek and Yimi García locked into Opening Day spots. Rule 5 Draft pick Sterling Sharp is extremely likely to break camp in a low-leverage role. They seem determined to give Adam Conley an opportunity to rebuild his trade value after a tumultuous year (otherwise he would’ve simply been non-tendered months ago). Whichever contender barely misses out on the fifth rotation spot could transition to the ‘pen rather than being sent down. Also, adding a second lefty like Stephen Tarpley, who has intriguing potential and important connections, would make sense on multiple levels.

Assuming all of those other arms complete camp healthy, I see Brigham being in a roster battle with fellow hard-throwing right-hander Drew Steckenrider. Loser goes down to Wichita (both of them have two minor league options remaining).

The quality of stuff that Brigham has already shown is good enough for him to succeed. That being said, his ability to locate pitches must improve. Eno Sarris of The Athletic reports that he had a Command+ of 88 last year, where 100 represents the MLB average.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Marlins totally overhauled their relief corps this winter. Conley survived because they didn’t want to sell low on him; ditto for Steckenrider, who was coming off an arthroscopic procedure on his right elbow. Everybody else with substantial big league experience got the boot...except for Jeff Brigham.

They must believe he’s capable of taking a leap forward in 2020. I know I do.