No reliever makes Angels fans more nervous than Kevin Jepsen, but no pitcher might be more important to the Halos in 2013. Needless to say, it is going to be quite the interesting year, either good or bad or maybe both, from the up-and-down reliever.
2012 Stats: 44.2 IP, 3-2, 2 SV, 3.02 ERA. 3.21 FIP, 39 H, 12 BB, 3 HR, 38 SO, 0.84 GB/FB, 0.6 fWAR
2013 ZiPS Projections: 58.2 IP, 3.99 ERA. 3.76 FIP, 56 H, 23 BB, 5 HR, 50 SO, 0.4 fWAR
2013 Bill James Projections: 64.0 IP, 4-3, 2 SV, 3.52 ERA. 3.30 FIP, 62 H, 22 BB, 5 HR, 60 SO
2013 CAIRO Projections: 56.0 IP, 3-3, 0 SV, 3.99 ERA. 3.74 FIP, 60 H, 22 BB, 5 HR, 47 SO, -0.1 fWAR
2013 MWAH Projections*: 60.0 IP, 2-2, 0 SV, 3.90 ERA. 3.53 FIP, 59 H, 23 BB, 5 HR, 57 SO
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA and FIP calculations are approximate)
2012 in Objective Review:
It was a season of highs and lows for Kevin Jepsen. He startedt the season with a surprise, pitching well enough to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster coming off the heels of a disastrous 2011 campaign. That good feeling didn't last long as Jepsen got tattoed for a 10.29 ERA in seven innings during April, a development which unsurprisingly led to him being demoted back to the minors.
While many assumed that was the last that would ever be seen of Jepsen, Kevin went to Salt Lake and almost immediately began utterly dominating the league. That resurgence coupled with the implosion of the Angels' big league bullpen led to Jepsen getting called up once more. This time though, he capitalized on his second third fourth fifth chance. From that point on, Kevin posted a 1.82 ERA and 2.92 FIP over the rest of the season. That success allowed him to quickly climb the bullpen depth chart to the point that he was the primary right-handed setup man by the end of the season.
2012 in Revisionist History:
To his credit, Jepsen owns up to his failings. He is the first to admit that he shot himself in the foot by screwing around with a two-seam fastball at the start of the year. After that blew up in his face, he returned to the minors, scrapped the pitch and focused on just throwing his heater in the mid-nineties, using his cutter more judiciously and mixing in his curve enough to keep hitters honest. That paid off in a big way in the second half and he is smart enough to realize it.
The problem everyone has with Jepsen is that he has burnt the Halos so many times. His collapse in 2011 was particularly costly to the team and few realized how much that was related to his weight loss and subsequent injury. Just looking at his velocity from year-to-year shows you how much the knee injury and loss of bulk contributed to his struggles since he lost two miles per hour off his fastball in 2011. Wising up to how much power he gets from his legs with his drop-and-drive delivery, Jepsen healthy and back up to weight and recovered his lost velocity plus an additional mile per hour as the cherry on top.
It did look though like he started to regress a little by the end of the season, getting hit a bit harder in September. It wasn't that bad, but it was bad enough to get everyone feeling a little bit nervous again about his consistency issues. If there is one bit of solace to be taken from those late struggles, it is that his walk rate stayed well down from his career norms. Control was a big problem for Jepsen even before his injury, but he really pounded the zone in 2012 and it paid off. The big challenge for a pitcher is continuing to pound the zone once the balls start getting smacked around a bit, but Kevin seemed to pass that challenge. At least so far.
Three Lingering Questions for 2013:
1) Can we finally trust Kevin?
Honestly, I have no idea. I really want to trust him and all his numbers from the second half of 2012 suggest we should trust him. He's even saying and doing all the right things in training camp but still... nothing. I just can't do it. I don't know if I will ever be able to do it. He has just come up short at the wrong times too many times.
2) What is Jepsen's role in the bullpen?
This is where the trust issue becomes such a bugaboo. Jepsen could well be a key cog in the Angels bullpen. In fact, I have him projected to log the most innings out of anyone in the relief corps. He'll get the tall task of being the righty setup man while Madson is out and may even pick up a stray save chance. Once Madson is ready to close again, Jepsen will drop down the depth chart, putting him into more of a utlity role, which is where he actually could be leaned on quite heavily as a guy who comes in to bail out starters when they get in a trouble spot as well as just plain bridging the gap from starter to setup. Of course, that all assumes he is doing his job well. If he doesn't he'll be lucky to keep drawing a paycheck.
3) Is Jepsen a flyball pitcher now?
One of the many things that changed with Jepsen last season is he went from a heavy groundball pitcher previously in his career to a moderate flyball pitcher in 2012. That wasn't a half-season anomaly either because Jepsen was flyball heavy in the minors this season as well. Still, this was just one year and could be a little flukish. Or it could be a function of his rededication to living off his fastball. This isn't exactly a problem as plenty of pitchers have higher flyball rates and enjoy great success, but it would be better if he could keep the ball on the ground.
Three Irrelevant Questions for 2013:
1) How did Jepsen register TWO whole saves last season?
Is this real life?
2) Why does he get to wear Troy Percival's old number?
I know he throws hard too, but he isn't fooling anyone.
3) Should I buy stock in Tums?
Considering that Scioscia recently said that Jepsen will be in the mix to work as the closer until Madson gets healthy, I'd say that I'm bullish on Tums stock.
2013 in Subjective Projection:
There is a lot about Jepsen that isn't worth trusting but one stat sticks out to me as real anomaly and that was his 6.7% walk rate. That is almost half of what he'd been doing in the majors the two previous seasons. It is a better mark than he ever put up in the minors even. That just doesn't happen overnight, but it apparently did for Jepsen. Granted, aside from that one ill-fated intentional ball that cost the Angels a game in 2011, he never struck me as a guy with terrible command.
Let's assume he did really lock on with his command, that's a premise I'm willing to accept, but not to the point where he is walking under 2.5 batters per nine innings. Regression seems like it is going to hit him hard in this area which will be reflected in his ERA.
This new tendency towards being a flyball pitcher scares me a bit too. One of the things Jepsen had going for him early in his career was he kept the ball one the ground and in the park. That's going to change. If he can keep the homers to the 0.6 HR/9 rate he allowed in 2012, that's fine. He might even be able to do that since his HR/FB% stayed right in line with his career norm, but I don't think he will, largely because he's Kevin Jepsen.
If we're being honest, a lot of my projection for Jepsen is based on the phrase "yeah, but he's still Kevin Jepsen." Things just don't seem to go his way, that's why I have his ERA pegged a good bit higher than his FIP. That is just what happens to Jepsen, at least until 2012. He was a guy who never seemed to live up to his component stats. He was a guy who always seemed unlucky. Except, I don't think it is luck. Some guys, like Jered Weaver, have an uncanny knack for outperforming their predictive numbers, others don't. Others are guys like Kevin Jepsen and I'm going to continue to lump him in with that crowd until he puts together more than one good half season that proves that axiom wrong.