Image credit: Jeremy Affeldt (Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)
When Jeremy Affeldt’s career finished up following the 2015 season, he’d put together a fantastic run as a lefthanded reliver. Debuted at age 22. Three World Series titles. Tens of millions in career earnings. Team nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. Even an MVP vote in 2009.
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As a whole, it’s a stellar career, but for Affeldt, the journey to professional baseball success took time, overcoming frustration and finding the right path.
From the jump, professional baseball was a challenge. Picked in the third round by the Royals in the 1997 draft out of Northwest Christian High School in Spokane, Wash., Affeldt spent his high school days dominating lesser competition. Facing professionals in the Gulf Coast League after being drafted wasn’t just the first time he’d faced adversity—it was practically the first time he’d even been touched.
“I got down there, I gave up four hits in my first outing—I thought I was a loser, thought I was the worst pitcher ever,” said Affeldt. “I had no idea how to give up hits.”
A hard-throwing lefty with a 6’ 4” frame, Affeldt found himself on the Royals Top 30 prospects list early during his time in the organization, but had trouble putting together a breakthrough year, giving up too many baserunners despite having quality stuff. Following his age-21 season at High-A Wilmington, he underwent the first of many overhauls during his time as a professional.
“I had revamped my curveball in instructional league the year before, with Mike Mason, a pitching coach that I highly value with not only getting me to the big leagues, but sustaining my success there,” said Affeldt. “When Mike Mason broke me down and we got my curveball back on track, I was throwing it for strikes and all of a sudden I’m just dominating hitters.”
Affeldt took off during the ensuing season, logging 25 starts at Double-A Wichita, then broke through in 2002 spring training as a surprise add to the Royals 25-man roster after a lights-out spring. His rapid momentum was met with five seasons of frustration in Kansas City, as Affeldt spent his time with the Royals shuttling between various different roles. He debuted in the bullpen, transitioned to starting, went back to the bullpen, back to the rotation, even served as a closer—all while dealing with blister issues. Despite spending nearly half a decade as a Royal, Affeldt had zero time to get comfortable.
“It was terrible, honestly. It was so hard mentally,” said Affeldt. “It put a bitter taste in my mouth.”
A 2006 deadline deal sent Affeldt to Colorado, where he finally was told once and for all that his job was to pitch in the bullpen. He had a role, now had to finally sit down and harness the skill set needed to succeed.
He once again tapped Mike Mason, who worked with Affeldt in the 2006 offseason to drop his arm slot and refine his breaking ball for the particular slot. In working with David Weathers, Affeldt also picked up a hard sinker. With a home in the bullpen, new arm slot and tweaked repertoire, Affeldt’s career finally regained momentum.
He carried a 3.51 ERA out of the pen on Colorado’s surprise 2007 World Series team, then a 3.33 ERA during a 2008 stop in Cincinnati. His stay with the Reds led to a two-year contract with the Giants, and the San Francisco run for which he would be known best.
Affeldt was a mainstay in the Giants bullpens that helped the team to three World Series championships in five years. Heading into each Series, Affeldt was confident in his role as the power lefty in the Giants pen, and his duty in taking out big lefty bats of their Series opponents: Josh Hamilton on the 2010 Rangers, Prince Fielder on the 2012 Tigers and multiple lefty big-boppers on the 2014 Royals.
“For me, I knew I was going to handle the big lefties or the power switch-hitters, that was the deal,” said Affeldt. “I looked at the lineup, said okay, these are probably the big areas, that’s who I’m going to focus on. These are the guys I know I’m going to face, these are the guys I’m potentially going to face, that’s all I’m going to worry about.”
In the end, the bullpen was the right home for Affeldt. The best relievers deliver with the game on the line, and with a 0.86 career ERA in 31.1 postseason innings, Affeldt proved to be historically great toeing the mound in playoff baseball.
“I didn’t do anything different—I threw a ton of strikes, I kept calm and I didn’t allow the situation to become a distraction,” said Affeldt.
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ World Series champion Jeremy Affeldt joins to walk through his career in professional baseball. He talks struggling early in his career, postseason success and his post–playing career running a brewery.