When Kevin Jepsen was drafted 53rd overall in the 2002 draft out of Bishop Manogue High School, he was seen as a future power arm, and was likely to be relegated to a relief role once he reached the higher levels of professional baseball.
Baseball America had this to say about Jepsen following the 2002 season:
After signing for $745,000, Jepsen topped out at 94 in the Arizona League but was just getting his arm back into top shape as the season ended. He’s primarily a two-pitch power arm, and his delivery borders on maximum effort. Jepsen is a project, as his slider, changeup and command all need to improve, but his arm strength is intriguing. His future could be in the bullpen, but he’ll stay in the rotation for now to build stamina and hone his arsenal.
Jepsen pretty much has been everything he was advertised as. He did end up in a relief role, and he was a project. In fact, Jepsen had a 4.73 ERA in 147 appearances from his big league debut in 2008 through the end of the 2011 season. He finished with a negative WAR in 3 of his first 4 seasons. He was an enigma.
But did he finally turn the corner this season?
I’d say so.
Jepsen was a very reliable arm in the back of the Angels bullpen this season. He had a horrendous first half, putting up a 7.20 ERA in 12 appearances. In April alone, he allowed 9 runs in 7 innings pitched.
But from the start of July through the remainder of the season, Jepsen made 40 appearances, pitching 37.2 innings, allowing just 7 runs, walking 10, and striking out 34. Over that span he had a marvelous 1.67 ERA, and was arguably the most reliable arm in the Angels bullpen.
So, what changed?
The two main adjustments Jepsen made in 2012: better command of the strikezone and an uptick in his velocity. From 2008 to 2011, Jepsen walked 61 batters in 135 innings pitched, for a BB/9 rate of 4.1. In 2011 alone, he walked 9 in just 13 innings pitched.
But that changed this past season. Jepsen walked just 12 batters over 44.2 innings pitched for a career-best BB/9 rate of 2.4, showing obvious improvements in his control.
Jepsen’s improved velocity in 2012 was another reason for his success. His 2012 average fastball velocity of 96.4 was a large improvement over his 2011 average velocity of 93.5. As you can see in the chart below (via Brooks Baseball), the velocity in Jepsen’s other pitches also improved. Jepsen’s cutter jumped from a 2011 average velocity of 91.64 to 93.1 in 2012, while his curveball increased from 83.57 MPH to 85.24 MPH.
Here are Jepsen’s 2012 pitch frequencies and average velocities:
For comparison’s sake, here is Jepsen’s 2009 season, in which he pitched to the tune of a 4.94 ERA over 54.2 innings:
|Pitch||Count||Freq||Velo (mph)||pfx HMov (in.)||pfx VMov (in.)||H. Rel (ft.)||V. Rel (ft.)|
As you can see, the main difference between 2009 and 2012 was the introduction of the sinker into Jepsen’s repetoire. His sinker significantly increased his groundball rate, which in turn lowered his fly ball rate. Thus resulting in a lesser likely outcome that the ball would fall in for a hit, or be susceptible to the long ball. A strong defense behind him also aided his cause.
Now, for Jepsen’s 2013 outlook, I doubt we are going to see a repeat of his 2012 second half. A realistic possibility is we see the 2010 version of Jepsen, who had a 101 ERA+ (slightly above-average) over 59 innings, although, there is a chance he takes another step forward, and asserts himself as a keystone in the Angels bullpen. What we do know is that Jepsen will likely be one of the holdovers from this year’s bullpen, as the Angels look to rebuild an inefficient bullpen that was 12th in the AL this season with a 3.97 ERA and a 4.10 FIP.
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