Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Kevin Jepsen Off The Rails

The Twins bullpen has been a problem area in the early going this season, and despite being left largely unaddressed this offseason, I expected the minor moves to make some difference. In short, some aspects have played out as expected. Fernando Abad has been about as good as I assumed, and Casey Fien has struggled along the lines I pictured. A guy I worried about though, was Kevin Jepsen, and that's been a bigger issue.

Jepsen appeared a very large regression candidate coming into the 2016 season. After being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays, Jepsen posted a 1.61 ERA for the Twins along with a 2.56 FIP. His 8.0 K/9 was right near his career average, and his 2.3 BB/9 were the best result of his career. Having never seen significant time as a closer previously, he grabbed 10 saves for Minnesota as a replacement for the injured Glen Perkins.

It all added up to a situation that just seemed too good to play out again.

Now around 20 games into the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the wheels have essentially fallen off for Jepsen. He owns a 4.15 ERA which probably doesn't highlight how poor he's been. His 7.3 K/9 is fine, but he's striking out just 17% of opposing hitters, the worst mark of his career. He's blown three saves, and has converted just two on the season. Now matter how you break it down, he's far from anything certain in a closer role.

There's a couple of things Jepsen seems to be doing differently early on for the Twins. He's relied on his fastball nearly 75% of the time this season (nearly a 10% bump from 2015), and has all but abandoned his changeup (using it just 2.7% of the time). Combining the usage with the fact that his 94 mph velocity on his fastball is the lowest of his career, it's resulted in less than ideal output.

On top of that, the effectiveness of Jepsen's pitches seems to have waned as well. In 2016, he's gotten batters to chase ptiches out of the zone just 24.1% of the time (lowest mark of his career) and well as generating swinging strikes just 8.7% of the time (lowest mark since 2013). When he throws a ball in the strike zone, opposing hitters are making contact a ridiculous 92.2% of the time (also the worst mark of his career).

Right now, Jepsen's problems are a perfect storm. He's not executing his pitches, and when he is, they simply aren't very good. He's not fooling hitters, and he's generally dancing around trouble rather than attacking and avoiding it. The sum of all parts suggests the regression I expect to set in, but I really didn't see it coming this quickly.

It's more than fair to attribute some of Jepsen's problems to the role he is being forced to play. Thanks to Glen Perkins binding the Twins with a week one DL stay, the former Rays reliever is pitching in a high leverage closer role he has no business occupying. In a pinch, as was the case in 2015, the situation may work for a brief period of time. As a shut down late inning reliever, you'd expect a ballclub to do better than Jepsen however.

For now, it sounds like manager Paul Molitor has issued a vote of confidence to his 9th inning arm. I'd hope the leash isn't too much longer, as the Twins can't continue to cough up leads and are already scarping for every W tally they can get. At some point, it might make sense to give Trevor May a shot, or even call on one of either J.T. Chargois or Nick Burdi to assume the role. The latter two are more drastic measures, while the former is worth a try.

Regardless of what eventually takes place, the path and process Kevin Jepsen is currently travelling down and executing upon can't continue to happen.

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