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Replacing Kevin Jepsen

Posted by dwade , 29 April 2016 · 1,150 views

pitchers bullpen kevin jepsen closers saves
Replacing Kevin Jepsen All losses are equal in the standings, this we all know, but there’s something extra galling about losing a game in the late innings, particularly with a blown save in the ninth inning. Everything else went right, then at the last second, a supposed specialist comes in and fails to do the job they were on the roster to do. I have long been convinced this is why teams will overpay -- compared to the statistical value -- for reliable closers: They’re willing to give up some financial flexibility to decrease the likelihood of sending their fans home feeling like they were sucker punched. (Speaking of closer-induced chest pains, long-time Twins fans may remember Ron Davis, the 1984 club’s ersatz closer who blew an MLB-record 14 saves for a team that finished 81-81, just three games out of a playoff spot.)

Among the many things that have not gone according to plan for the Twins so far this season, one that is particularly unpleasant is that they’ve recorded seven wins and blown seven saves. The team’s current closer, Kevin Jepsen, leads the team in wins, which can be indicative of a number of things but not a single one of them is good.

So here’s my bold prediction: Kevin Jepsen won’t be the Twins’ closer at the All-Star break.

Ok, it’s not really that bold. Glen Perkins may not be throwing yet, but if he’s still out two months from now, his shoulder strain is worse than the team has indicated. By the All-Star break, he ought to be back, and if he’s healthy enough to pitch, he’ll resume his typical closing duties, Jepsen then settles back into his eighth-inning role, Trevor May gets the seventh and order is restored.

That’s the stage that has to be set before any discussion of Jepsen’s future. He’s not Matt Capps, the Twins’ chosen closer who falls apart midway through his term, he’s a caretaker who will relinquish the job as soon as Perkins is ready. That doesn’t mean he should be implicitly trusted with the job for the time being, it’s worth investigating whether he’s suited for it or not, but it’s important to understand what’s at stake here: 25-30 more end-of-game appearances if things start going the Twins’ way and 20-25 if they don’t.

The Twins do have some interesting arms in the minors that will be in the discussion to close for the team in the future. Tyler Jay, the team’s 2015 first round pick, was one of the best college closers last year but the team believes he has a future as a starter. Even if they decide to push him back to the bullpen, it shouldn’t happen this season and it absolutely shouldn’t be in response to a need within the major league team. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but “Don’t aim for a reliever with the sixth overall pick” is a maxim most teams would probably agree with. If Jay ends up as a high-leverage reliever, so be it, but the ceiling on a reliever’s total career value is notably lower than a starter’s.

After a stellar turn in the Arizona Fall League, Nick Burdi is positioning himself for a September call-up at the very minimum and could be up before then if the team continues to suffer pitcher injuries in the quantity they’ve had them in the season’s first month. Burdi has a live arm, but he’s still working on control issues with Double-A Chattanooga. If he starts to lock in his command, it’s not hard to see the team deciding to bypass Rochester and bring him all the way up, but his 1.69 WHIP last season means he’s going to need to show that he can limit baserunners consistently before they start moving him aggressively. It’s hard to imagine that timetable being set by the team and met by Burdi before Perkins is ready to rejoin the team.

J.T. Chargois is probably the most major league-ready of any reliever in the Twins’ system with solid future potential, but the team would almost certainly want to blood him in before handing him the ninth inning duties. At that point, he’d probably only get 10 appearances or so before Perkins was ready again and there’s no guarantee all 10 would be save opportunities. Even setting aside developmental issues, calling a non-essential player up to make eight appearances of any value makes absolutely no financial sense.

That leaves three players already on the major league roster who could conceivably do the job: Jepsen, May, and Alex Meyer.

Though my feeling on Meyer haven’t changed since he was acquired for Denard Span (profiles as a reliever more than a starter and will struggle with consistency until he can repeat his delivery) the team is handling him as though they view him as a starter. As with Jay, this likely maximizes Meyer’s value, and he should be given every chance to prove he can do it, but with him already on the major league roster, a two-month stint in the bullpen isn’t likely to do any lasting damage. It would, however, stunt any development as a starter until next season. Another potential downside to the move is that there’s absolutely no guarantee that he’ll be an improvement on Jepsen.

Terry Ryan has said multiple times over the last few months that the franchise’s long-term plan with May was to have him in the starting rotation rather than the bullpen. If that were not the case, May could easily assume the closer role, and there would be a serious discussion about whether Perkins was going to automatically get his job back upon his return. May needs some refinement as a reliever -- he has over half as many wild pitches as a reliever (4) as he had as a starter (7) despite facing 362 fewer hitters -- but his strikeout rate has taken a huge leap forward since he moved to the bullpen last season, which is a good skill for a potential closer to have. Less good would be the aforementioned wild pitches and his walk rate, which has also risen substantially since he left the starting rotation.

So, if the Twins are bereft of other obvious options, are they doomed to sink with Davis-esque millstone lashed to their collective necks? Not hardly.

Jepsen’s 2015 stint with the Twins was one of the best extended stretches of his entire career. A 30-game run from May to June in 2014 when he was still with the Angels was slightly better, but the Twins still got production from their midseason acquisition that the Rays never got and the Angels only saw in fits and starts. If there was any question about Jepsen’s role with the Twins after last year, it was only whether he might supplant Perkins as the closer even absent any injury consideration. In fact, as Perkins fatigued, Jepsen stepped in and gave the Twins a good option at the end of games as they stayed in the playoff chase until the end.

His start to this season was obviously suboptimal, but Jepsen does have a history of improving as the year goes on. He has been something of a slow starter throughout his career, peaking in July, then typically fading a little bit down the stretch; he’s far from the only player to follow that type of pattern. It’s not hard to see why Jepsen is struggling: Too few first pitch strikes, too few hitters chasing his out-of-the-zone pitches they can’t hit, too much hard contact, too many home runs, all of which looks less like a systemic collapse and more like a pitcher who just isn’t quite sharp yet and is paying the price for it. Reliever numbers have a tendency to look outsized in either direction; Jepsen looked better than he probably was last year and now the pendulum has swung the other direction.

It’s unlikely that the Twins see the same Jepsen they saw last year, but betting on him to get better and at least return to being more of an asset than a liability isn’t a bad bet.

The other reason to keep Jepsen in his current role is a value play. If the Twins continue to muddle well below the .500 mark, Jepsen becomes trade bait starting around Memorial Day. The worst thing to do for his value -- which admittedly isn’t even as high as it was when the Twins traded Chih-Wei Hu for him last season -- would be to let him tank his value the way he has so far this season, then bury him in the pecking order and only bring him back out in low-leverage situations. Even with Jepsen’s track record as a serviceable late-inning option, that would basically cripple whatever market for him would have formed otherwise.

Even if Jepsen does make a run at Davis’ blown saves mark, Twins fans can take solace in two things. One, it’s unlikely that Jepsen can blow 11 more saves before Perkins returns, keeping Davis’ ignominy from spreading into the 21st century. And two, given the way the American League is shaping up, it’s fairly unlikely that the Twins are going to just barely miss the playoffs.




Ron Davis memories. Arrghhhhh! Fien and Jepsen means we try and win instead tomorrow is the new rally cry, 

 

I'm not sure the solution. We deep-sixed Stauffer and his million or so early. Is Fien the second coming of stayed-around-too-long Jared Burton? Is there any reason to think anyone would give us anything for him (his last value was in 2014 and I don't think anyone was banging loudly on the door to get him then). We got Jepsen fairly cheap. DON'T let him close and see if he can re-establish some value.

 

We can say that the NEW KIDS wouldn't be any worse than the OLD GUYS, and we can shuffle them back and forth for awhile to see if they can work stuff out. Is that the path to take?

 

If it is - THE TWINS HAVE TO PLAY the guys they feel will contribute in 2017 and beyond, and no one else, period. 

 

Do I have any offers?