Assessing the Internal Options for the Bullpen

While the Angels bullpen hasn’t really been something to get worked up about (unless it’s a rage you’re building) this past offseason has given fans hope that the ‘pen can return to at least a semi-decent form. Now, there is still the nagging question of what Dipoto plans on doing with the last open spot in the bullpen, we all know he has one more move left up his sleeve, but we don’t know exactly what he plans to do. Is he going to bring in one more arm from outside the organization or does he plan on building it back up from the inside? There aren’t very many options left on the free agency market, and the ones that are left are not that appealing, and I doubt Dipoto is going to make any moves towards a trade for a reliever unless Mike Rizzo somehow plants a sleeper agent in the Angels front office that convinces Jerry to go forward on a lopsided Bourjos trade to the Nats. The best plan of attack here would be to fix the ‘pen from the inside, the only question that remains is with who?


Better question, would the risk/reward of another season of Jepsen really be worth all the money I spend on hats after tearing all my hair out?

There are a lot of kids sitting in farm system just waiting for another chance to come back to the Angels bullpen and give their careers as a major leaguer another shot. Some of them, like Jepsen, had a promising road laid out for them until certain issues sidetracked their career. I would much rather prefer Dipoto to give some of these guys another shot at the big leagues instead of shelling out a regrettable contract for a guy like Luis Ayala. However, the chances of one these former blowpenners making a comeback in the majors isn’t something I can confidently count on, not without a nice little trip down the yellow brick road of trusty old stats! 

Kevin Jepsen

Who can forget this kid, the guy was supposed to shine as the Angels future closer, yet mental issues on the mound and constantly slipping mechanics took his career on an ugly detour back in the minors. Even when he given another chance to come back to the Angels nice and fresh after a stay in Salt Lake he couldn’t keep his head on straight enough to secure his spot on the big league roster. He only played in 16 games last season, as opposed to the 68 appearances he made back in 2010, and in those 16 appearances he was an absolute train wreck to watch. Granted that while 16 games is a small sample size, his inefficiencies in those 16 games were enough to knock him back down to the minors for the remainder of the season.  His strikeout rates faced a massive decline, dropping from 9.3 K/9 to a measly 4.2 K/9; his strikeout ability was the only thing that made him tolerable the previous season, and once he lost that ability his usefulness was shot. Could it be possible that his second trip back down to Salt Lake would prepare him better for a comeback season in 2012?

Highly unlikely, while he did post an improved K/9 ratio of 6.4 while keeping his walks at a tolerable rate with the Bees, his 10.2 H/9 was nearly as bad at the 14.5 H/9 he put up in his time in the big leagues. Jepsen managed only 28.1 innings, while putting up a 4.45 ERA, though he did come up with 7 saves in 20 games finished. Jepsen’s performance has been on the downslide ever since his mildly successful season with the Angels back in 2010, whatever problems have been nagging Jepsen seem to be going as strong as ever, it doesn’t ease my mind that during his time in Salt Lake he’s managed to put up a worse performance than his 2010 season (I continue to refer to this season because it is the only decent big league season Jepsen’s ever put up). 

To me the Jepsen that many Angel fans were sure was going to break out is simply never going to happen, the best I see happening for Jepsen is a role as a decent middle inning reliever where his inconsistencies will be sure to keep him in hot water. If he managed to make the team out of Spring Training it’s doubtful he’ll be able to hold onto whatever role he lands, whether it’s that inconsistent middle inning reliever or untrustworthy late inning reliever (aka Fraudney II). I don’t see him securing a role this upcoming season, and even if he does I don’t see him holding onto that spot very long.

Francisco Rodriguez

Remember this guy? Remember how confident he was that he was part of the pack that was chasing the closer spot for the Angels during Spring Training last season? While you gotta hand it to him for having the confidence to believe he could win that closer spot there wasn’t really much going for him skill-wise. Francisco’s abilities fell very short of what you would like from a closer, his strikeout to walk ratio left a lot to be desired (1.38 K/BB) and he had some trouble keeping control of his pitches, noted by his insane 8 wild pitches in only 47.1 innings; to compare that’s FOUR times as bad as Fernando Rodney’s wild pitch count. That was all back in 2010, it should be no shocker that he had a short 2011 before being cut from the team, pitching only 13.2 innings before being cut from the team. Francisco’s exit season wasn’t nearly as bad as Jepsen though, he managed a 3.3 BB/9 rate while seeing his K/9 drop to 4.6, although his WHIP did drop slightly, which is always a good sign. 

While it’s pretty obvious that if he does come back there’s no way he’ll be in line for the closer role, it should be noted that his troubles could make him a hefty cost to bring out of the bullpen on a consistent basis. The Angels just signed Francisco to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, and while he doesn’t have nearly as much promise as Jepsen once had his troubles shouldn’t be as painful to sit through while he works on correcting them. Francisco has a manageable shot of making a good impression during Spring Training if he can show that he’s improved, even if it’s just a slight improvement. You shouldn’t expect much from the guy though, at best he’ll probably be handing the ball to the 8th inning set-up man, maybe he’ll even get to set up Walden in a game or two if he on a decent streak.

Michael Kohn

Oh Kohn, how you had fooled me after your short but otherwise successful stint with the Angels in 2010. You made me believe you would be a key in the Angels’ bullpen during the 2011 season, oh how you had me fooled. There I was, sitting in the living room watching the second game of the 2011 season against the Kansas City Royals, you were up on the mound pitching against Kila Ka’aihue and I was going on and on with my dad about how he was going to want to keep an eye on Kohn this season, that he was a player to look out for, then BAM! Walk-off home run out of freaking NOWHERE! That moment of embarrassment made me think twice about my blind fandom towards Kohn; maybe….just maybe he isn’t all that I’ve made him out to be. After a real solid evaluation is was obvious he was not what I had made him out to be in my head, and after putting up a short stint nearly as disastrous as Jepsen it was clear to me what Kohn’s value really was. That sentiment held up fine a year ago, but could the same be said for Kohn today?

While Kohn did pitch nearly twice as many innings as Jepsen did in AAA ball, his performance left a lot to be desired. In 48.1 IP Kohn managed a 4.10 ERA while keeping his walk rate down to a manageable 3.7 BB/9, however Kohn did manage to get a handle on the strikeout, upping his K/9 rate from 8.4 in 2010 (MLB) to 11.9 with the Bees. How well this will translate to the majors, or if Kohn will be able to replicate his AAA performance in the big leagues is still left to be seen, but seeing him improving on one of his bigger flaws is a hopeful sign, though it probably won’t mean much if he can’t keep his walks down if he makes the team out of Spring Training. Kohn still has some work to do with keeping his hits down, but if he can manage all that he’ll be back to his 2010 form with noticeable improvements. I would say that Kohn has a better chance of making the team out of Spring Training (if Dipoto chooses to go that route) than Jepsen or Rodriguez. It isn’t a sure thing that any three of these guys would make the team out of Spring Training, Dipoto could always choose to go outside the organization, or all three could just flat out suck down in Tempe.

Even though it may seem like the Angels are falling shorter and shorter on options as the days go by without making a move to solidify the ‘pen, the dominoes are falling in our favor just like they’ve been all offseason. Regardless of how many quality relievers get picked up off the trade and free agent market, the best options for the Angels are sitting down in AAA ball just waiting to be plucked out from the void of the minors and given another shot at excelling in the big leagues. Although it may be less expensive to go internally, the risk/reward is far greater; Kohn can come back stronger than he did in 2010, while Jepsen can fall flat on his face over and over again, and vice versa. Hell, Rodriguez might even be able to channel some special K-Rod magic from his brethren over in Milwaukee.

Now, if you wouldn’t mind excusing me while I do like Jepsen and fail to smoothly close out this article.