Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Twins Gem In The Pen

In recent seasons, the Minnesota Twins have not been in the best position to make moves at the trade deadline. A winning club for the first time since 2010, Terry Ryan was awarded a new opportunity this season. With a handful of different upgrade possibilities at his disposal, it was the bullpen piece that he acquired making it two straight slam dunk deals for the Twins.

A season after snagging major league quality starter Tommy Milone from the Athletics, Ryan turned his attention to a pitching starved pen. The Twins bullpen had been one of the worst in the big leagues through the first half of 2015, and if the club was even going to sniff a playoff opportunity, finishing games needed to be less stressful.

As the deadline drew to a close, Ryan sent lottery ticket prospect Chih-Wei Hu to the the Tampa Bay Rays for veteran Kevin Jepsen. Despite Hu owning a sub 3.00 ERA for the Fort Myers Miracle, he was a fringe prospect that Minnesota turned into a major league commodity. Jepsen came to the Twins under a one-year, $3.03 million deal and a year of team control in 2016.

Despite a potentially concerning 4.20 FIP for the Rays, and an ugly first outing for the Twins, Jepsen has been everything Minnesota has needed. Since that first blow-up outing, Jepsen has allowed just a single earned run across 18.1 IP. He's given up just nine hits, and five walks, while striking out 17 in that span. Allowing just a .141/.203/.188 slash line against, his 0.49 ERA is dazzling. To say Jepsen has revitalized the Twins bullpen would be an understatement.

Jepsen has also taken aim at some of his own peripherals. The once inflated FIP has settled in at 3.04 with the Twins. He's also hitting the strike zone 64% of the time, compared to 61% while with the Rays. Then there's the added responsibility that the newest Twins reliever has taken on.

Despite Glen Perkins being baseball's best closer through the first half of the season, the second half has been a different story. Marred by injury, Minnesota's 9th inning role was up in the air, until Jepsen stepped in. He's picked up seven saves for the Twins (blowing none). Just one run has crossed in those seven innings, and he's fanned nine while giving up just four hits. Not traditionally a closer (just 12 saves in 7 seasons prior to his time with the Twins), Jepsen has looked every bit the part.

Maybe somewhat poetically, a closer is absolutely what Minnesota and Terry Ryan were hoping for in Jepsen. With a renewed sense of purpose in 2015, a bullpen unable to hold onto leads and close out games wasn't going to get it done. Targeting a low cost option, with future benefit, Jepsen has proved to be an acquisition that Minnesota can look back and smile upon.

Over the course of the season, prolonged strength in relief hasn't been something the Twins could much point to. Aside from Perkins, Trevor May, and times of Blaine Boyer, things have been bleak. When Minnesota needed it most though, they got Kevin Jepsen, and became better for it.

Whether the Twins make the playoffs or not, Jepsen has been a diamond in the rough for Molitor and Neil Allen. He's been at the center of Minnesota's September pursuits, and should be expected to continue that trend into 2016 as well.

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