Most folks might not know it, but Kevin Jepsen was arguably the most valuable reliever for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012.
Considering that he was neither the closer (Ernesto Frieri/Scott Downs shared that role) nor the primary set-up man, that seems like that stretch. But with a 3.02/1.14 ERA/WHIP, 3.17 K/BB (better than both Downs and Frieri) and a .238 BAA, Jepsen bounced back from what can only be called a disastrous year in 2011 to once again becoming a regular late-game fixture for the Angels.
Recently avoiding arbitration with the team by signing a one-year, $1.18 dollar deal, the righty will be looking to build on the success he had, and potentially parlay his experience as one of the Angels’ most experienced and longest-tenured reliever into an expanded role in 2013.
He’ll have some serious competition, as the new-look Halos bullpen saw the departure of former closer Jordan Walden, but added Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson in return. On paper, that should give the Angels a 1/1A combo at the ninth inning spot, with Frieri and Downs both setting up; but, as we all know by now, major league bullpens are considered the most volatile part of the team, and the Angels’ plans could very easily deviate from their plans on paper.
Yes, Madson was a brilliant set-up man with the Philadelphia Phillies before he was a dynamic closer, but how he’ll bounce back from Tommy John surgery at age-32 remains to be seen. Ideally, he’ll bounce back the way that Joe Nathan did for the Texas Rangers, but his role as the Angels’ ninth-inning man is far from guaranteed, considering that he’s on a one-year make-good deal.
One of his primary backups, Burnett, had been successful as a set-up man over the last few years, but a .700 OBSA against righties (compared to .506 against lefties) likely means he’s better off as a LHP specialist. If anything, Frieri, who was brilliant in Los Angeles in 2012, is more likely to be the closer should Madson fail to regain his form.
Where Jepsen could eventually come in isn’t in the ninth inning (although he has a bit of experience there), but in the innings prior as the team’s primary set-up man.
That’s a role that had been reserved for the Downs, but the lefty has shown a regression in his control (three-year decline in K/BB), while Jepsen put up a career-high 3.17 K/BB last season. Add to the fact that he’s throwing harder than ever (fastball averaging 96.6 mph), and there are signs that point to the 28-year-old finally establishing himself as one of the bullpen’s best relievers in 2013 along with Frieri.
At 0.6 fWAR (tied with Frieri), Jepsen was already the most valuable member of the Angels bullpen in 2012. In 2013, he’ll look to build on that and be recognized as such.