Kevin Jepsen started the season off as a downright disaster until an accident turned him from minor league fodder to closer of the future. Will 2010 be the year Jepsen ascends to elite reliever status or another year of learning on the job?
2009 Stats: 54.2 IP, 6-4, 63 H, 19 BB, 48 K, 4.94 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
2010 Bill James Projections: 52.0 IP, 3-3, 53 H, 27 BB, 49 K, 4.33 ERA, 1.54 WHIP
2010 Chone Projections: 63.0 IP, 3-3, 63 H, 31 BB, 51 K, 4.14 ERA, 1.49 WHIP
2010 Marcel Projections: 53.0 IP, 4-3, 56 H, 19 BB, 44 K, 4.58 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
2010 Monkey Projections*: 57.0 IP, 2-2, 53 H, 18 BB, 66 K, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com except the Monkey Projections which are strictly based on my own knowledge, logic and intuition.
2009 Review: In a word, Kevin Jepsen’s 2009 was “serendipitous.” After the horrible start Jepsen had to his 2009 season, he should have been banished to the minor leagues for the rest of they year. Lucky for him, all the other Angel relievers were pitching just as terribly, forcing the Angels to recall Jepsen after he recuperated from the back problems that caused his bad start to the season. If he hadn’t been recalled at that moment, Mike Butcher might never have noticed that Jepsen was accidentally throwing a cut fastball during warm-ups one day. It was that cutter (or slider depending on who you ask) that revived Jepsen’s season and gave his career a whole new, higher ceiling. Armed with this great new second pitch, Jepsen was an often dominant force in the second half for the Angels, keying the bullpen’s late-season turnaround. By the time the post-season rolled around Jepsen had climbed all the way from back of the bullpen to part-time closer with Brian Fuentes and it was all because of lucky timing.
3 Questions for 2010:
- Is he this year’s Jose Arredondo? For a guy with an ERA just below 5 last year, Jepsen is getting a whole lot of hype coming into the year as a potential closer of the future. But will he suffer the same fate as the last “closer of the future” for the Angels? Jepsen is no sure thing this season despite what we might want to believe. He only has one good half season under his belt, his back and shoulder could both give him problems and there is a very real chance that hitters will adjust to his cutter now that they have a scouting report and some video on the pitch.
- Can he be effective versus left-handed hitters? Last season, Jepsen was death on righties, posting a 1.73 FIP, 1.02 WHIP and 9.86 K/9. However, lefties were death on Jepsen as he got hammered for a 4.16 FIP, 2.05 WHIP and 5.68 WHIP. Part of me wonders how much of that southpaw damage was done before Jepsen discovered his cutter as that pitch should make him much more effective than lefties in theory. If he has any designs on becoming a closer, he’ll have to prove he can get tough lefties out first.
- What will his role in the bullpen be? As of right now, Fuentes is the closer and Rodney and Shields are the top set-up men, leaving Jepsen on the outside looking in at the prominent relief roles. Jepsen might end up being the best reliever of the bunch though, so he might force his way into one of those roles before long. Either way, the Angels are in good shape if any of those four pitchers end up being “just” a middle reliever.
2010 Preview: As you can see, I am more bullish on Jepsen than anyone else, but that is likely just because the statistical models don’t have a whole to work with for their projections. Kevin was definitely a much better pitcher after he resolved his issues with scoliosis and discovered the cutter/slider and added it to his repertoire. While it is possible that hitters will adjust to his new pitch, I actually think it is far more likely that he will refine the pitch after working on it all off-season and spring and really learn how to use it to neutralize left-handed pitchers. Jepsen has the kind of power arm that should make him a dominant reliever and I think we will definitely get a healthy dose of that this year, though he probably won’t be given a legitimate shot at taking over as closer… not this year, anyway.