After a pair of bumpy starts, the Diamondbacks optioned Drey Jameson to Triple-A Reno on April 24.
Jameson only lasted 3.2 innings in a start against the Cardinals on April 18 due to control issues that led to four walks and two earned runs. He followed that up by being yanked after the first inning during a start versus the Padres when he issued the unfortunate trifecta of three walks, three hits, and three earned runs while only getting three outs.
Jameson has had an inconsistent start to the 2023 season, but he’s no stranger to taking a non-linear path during his major league baseball career.
Was this recent minor league demotion simply another bump in the road for the young right-hander, or the end of his story? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Jameson and examine why you shouldn’t forget about Drey.
Still the Same OG
Drey Jameson graduated from Greenfield-Central High School in Greenfield, Indiana in 2017 – the same school that produced Kyle Gibson, who graduated in 2006. Jameson was undrafted out of high school despite a senior season that ended with him being named to the all-state team and Indiana’s Prep Baseball Report’s Player of the Year.
On the mound, he was 6-1 with a 0.65 ERA and 112 strikeouts, and from the plate, he hit a Ted Williams-eqsue .404 with seven home runs, nine doubles, 22 RBI, and 10 stolen bases. However, with no professional route at that point, Jameson went to play baseball at Ball State University.
He excelled in college, finishing his freshman year with a 7-2 record and 3.88 ERA in 12 starts, which earned him the Mid-American Conference’s (MAC) Freshman Pitcher of the Year Award. Jameson was even better in his sophomore season finishing 6-3 with a 3.24 ERA and 146 strikeouts and winning the MAC Pitcher of the Year Award.
Jameson now had the attention that he lacked in prior years, and the Diamondbacks drafted him with the 34th overall pick in the 2019 draft. He began his minor league journey at Single-A but didn’t impress initially with nine walks and eight earned runs in 11.2 IP, and finishing the 2019 season with a 6.17 ERA.
COVID-19 then wiped out the 2020 season, so Jameson next pitched in High-A to start the 2021 season. He started 12 games there and began to see some improvement (3.92 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 64.3 innings) before moving up to Double-A.
In Double-A, he held his own, finishing the season with a record of 3-2 and continuing to rack up strikeouts (68 in 46.3 innings). He was back at Double-A to start the 2022 season, and improved upon his 2021 numbers with a 2.41 ERA in 18.6 innings before getting the call to move up to Triple-A Reno.
In Triple-A, it was again two steps forward and a step backward for Jameson, as he posted a 6.95 ERA and a record of 5-14 in 114 IP. He had nine starts where he gave up more than five earned runs, including three starts in August 2022 where he surrendered six earned runs. Even with these ugly numbers, the Diamondbacks promoted him to the big leagues on September 15.
Based upon his Triple-A numbers, one would have expected things to go south quickly for Jameson against major league hitting. However, in the pattern of inconsistency developing in this story, he was surprisingly electric in his debut start.
He finished the rest of the season in the majors and was one-third of an inning short from cranking out four straight quality starts to begin his major league career. Jameson concluded the season with a 3-0 record, 1.48 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 24 strikeouts in 24 IP.
Entering spring training this year, Jameson was expected to earn a spot in the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation as Arizona had the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Zach Davies lining up behind ace Zac Gallen and number two starter Merrill Kelly. But Jameson didn’t separate himself from the other young arms in Arizona’s system and had to settle for a bullpen role to start the year (the last rotation spot was given to Ryne Nelson).
But then a funny thing happened again – Jameson flourished in the reliever role.
In his first outing on March 31, he pitched four innings in long relief, giving up only one earned run and striking out five to earn the win. In his second appearance, he pitched two innings and earned his first career save in a win over the Padres. And in his third appearance, he won his second game after a 2.1-inning scoreless outing against the Dodgers.
With this momentum, and upon the news that Davies was headed to the injured list, Jameson moved into the starting rotation. His first start of the year was brief but went well, with four scoreless innings and four strikeouts over the Brewers.
But then the two aforementioned rough outings occurred and the road led him back to Triple-A. So what does Jameson need to do to get back to the majors?
Turn Me Back to the Old Me
A closer look at his pitch mix shows his strengths and where things have gone sideways this season.
In 2022, his primary pitch was a four-seam fastball, which he throws in the 96-98 MPH range. Last year, he averaged 95.9 MPH with the pitch, putting him in the 97th percentile of MLB pitchers. He threw the fastball in the top third of the zone and had a habit of going up and in on right-handed batters, which resulted in a .235 average against the pitch.
In 2023, the fastball has averaged more juice (97.3 MPH), but he has had trouble locating it. More of the four-seamers are completely missing the strike zone. As you can see below, the cluster has moved from the top inside corner of the strike zone in 2022 to now high and inside, but outside the strike zone.
Batters have averaged .250 against the pitch this season and are getting more power on the ball as Jameson’s flyball rate is also up (33% FB% in 2023 compared to 25% in 2022). This has resulted in more home runs with a HR/FB% of 25% compared to 14.3% in 2022.
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo pointed to the issues with the fastball location when discussing Jameson’s demotion.
“The lack of fastball consistency, his inability to command his secondary stuff, we felt like he was becoming one dimensional out over the plate,” Lovullo said in his comments to azcentral.com.
In Jameson’s last start prior to the demotion, which lasted only an inning, he threw 43 pitches, of which only 22 found the strike zone. His pitch distribution is shown below, as well as the speed and PLV per pitch.
He was throwing faster across the board, but this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. The MLB average for PLV is 5.07, so nearly all his pitches from this game were well below this mark, showing the uniquely poor quality of that start.
In the pitch plot from the game, the red dots are his four-seamers, and as you can see, he missed the strike zone the majority of the time by floating his four-seamer up.
So now we know about the struggles with his fastball, but what about his other primary pitches?
Jameson has used a sinker as his primary pitch this season and it was his second-most utilized pitch in 2022. He throws it in the 94-95 MPH range, and when it is working, he locates it in the bottom third of the zone. This creates a discrepancy for the hitter as they see his four seamer consistently hitting at the top of the strike zone and then the sinker dropping off low in the zone. In 2022, the Zone% on the pitch was 60.2% and it had an xAVG of .229.
Just like the fastball this season, he’s throwing the sinker faster. The pitch is averaging 95.1 MPH in 2023, up from 94.4 MPH last season. However, the Zone% on the sinker has fallen to 56.4% and it has a much worse xAVG this season (.349). Once again, more of the pitches are hitting outside the zone and therefore farther away from that lower third of the strike zone target that works for him.
The best pitch out of the arsenal is his nasty slider. He averaged 84.7 MPH on the pitch last season and it had a SwStr% of 25%, which put him in the 93rd percentile of all pitchers.
During his debut start versus the Padres last season, he had the slider working and went seven scoreless innings with only two hits and one walk. He also struck out five.
An example of Jameson’s powerful slider comes from his second start last season, against the Dodgers. In the fourth inning, Max Muncy nearly toppled over swinging wildly at an 88 MPH slider. Look at the vertical movement as Jameson drops it off a cliff at the last second.
Nick Pollack featured that start against the Dodgers in detail in a pitch breakdown video. You can see how effective Jameson can be when his slider is dialed in and working nicely in concert with his upper-90s fastball and sinker.
During that game, Jameson threw 94 pitches (62 for strikes) and went six innings, allowing two earned runs and one walk with seven strikeouts against the powerful Dodgers lineup.
In his third outing, he missed a third straight quality start by 1/3 of an inning as he pitched 5.2 scoreless innings and struck out five. In his fourth and last start of the 2022 season, he captured another quality start and got the win, after a six-inning outing against the Giants. Jameson finished that game with a line of two earned runs, two walks, and seven strikeouts.
But as you may have picked up by now, his location with the slider this season is not as precise as it was last season in 2022 when he was having success. His Zone% on the slider in 2023 is 35.8%, down from 50% last season.
Similarly his Str% (Swings and Called Strikes) of 53.1% is way down from last season’s 70.7%. All of this adds up to hitters getting better outcomes against the slider. They managed only a .105 average against the pitch in 2022, but are hitting .188 against it this season.
As the pitch heatmaps and the comparisons from 2022 to 2023 demonstrate, Jameson’s first priority during his time in the minors should be to re-discover the location on all of his pitches and work to fine tune his zones. He also will need to cut down his walks – as his WHIP sits at 1.53 this season compared to 1.11 last season.
Another issue that Lovullo brought up in his comments on the demotion was the fact that Jameson was throwing “mad balls” instead of focusing on his command and location. That was evident in his last start when his velocity was up on all of his pitches and his location was askew. This seems like youthful hubris on the part of Jameson and that he may need to mature a bit as he continues to hone his craft.
Despite his obvious talent, the 2023 struggles and continued inconsistencies currently have Jameson at a fork in the road of his career. He has played in 10 MLB games (with seven starts) thus far and his career numbers actually still look sharp: 5-1 with a 2.40 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, one save, and 17 strikeouts through 16 IP.
It is also important to remember he is still only 25 years old and young pitchers can be notoriously inconsistent. It takes time to learn how to harness their stuff and adjust it to major league hitting.
Startin’ Today and Tomorrow’s Anew
If Jameson can reset during his time in the minors and make the necessary adjustments, he still has a chance at major league success. A shift in his role could also prove fruitful for his career, and I propose a solution – that the Diamondbacks use Jameson exclusively as a reliever, instead of a starter, moving forward.
Arizona’s bullpen was the worst in baseball in 2022. With even an average bullpen, the Dbacks probably would have finished the season with a record of around .500, instead of 14 games under .500. They were the only bullpen with a negative WAR for the season (-0.7) and as a team, they had only 33 saves. This was the fourth worst mark in the league, and their bullpen ERA of 4.58 was the fifth worst mark.
Thus far in 2023 they have been better as Andrew Chafin and Miguel Castro have emerged as reliable options in the bullpen. Chafin is moving toward the primary closer role after Scott McGough struggled to begin the year.
Chafin has brought stability with an ERA of 2.61 and a WHIP of 1.16. Through 10.1 IP (as of 5/2) he has a 2-0 record and four saves. Castro has an ERA of 2.31 and 0.94 WHIP and has filled an important setup role in front of Chafin.
Adding Jameson to the mix could bring even further stability and talent to this bullpen, giving Arizona another option late in games. He could lean heavily on his fastball and slider in shorter outings as a reliever, and he has the flexibility and talent to be a multi-inning swingman or a potential closer someday. He could even make the occasional spot start serving as an “opener” when needed.
“Throwing mad” as Luvollo criticized, is not always a bad thing coming out of the bullpen, and Jameson could actually use this to his advantage. He would also be less likely to burn up his pitches since he would be more focused on striking out hitters rather than pitching strategically to last a full game.
The Diamondbacks also have other young pitchers such as Tommy Henry and Brandon Pfaadt who could be used in the rotation instead of Jameson. In 2022, Henry went 3-4 with a 5.36 ERA over nine starts. He has good command but obviously needs to develop further to be a reliable starter.
And then there is Pfaadt, who is the more exciting of the duo, and who was named the Pitcher of the Year in the Diamondbacks’ system in 2022. Pfaadt led the minor leagues in strikeouts, as he piled up 218 punchouts over 167 innings. He was just called up to the majors and will be starting tonight’s game against the Rangers.
By employing Jameson in the bullpen, the Diamondbacks bolster their traditionally weak bullpen and they give Jameson the best chance at long-term success. This would also ensure we do not forget about Drey.