Looking to improve on their 26th ranked bullpen over the 2016 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks have signed some familiar bullpen names to minor league deals over the last week. Both Kevin Jepsen and Brian Matusz will look to capture past success for the Diamondbacks and catch on with the big-league club in 2017, and Arizona will need at least one of them to do so for them to have a chance in the NL West next season. After a Heritage Sports Review of the odds I noticed that Arizona is priced at +12000 to win the world series, meaning they are going to need some changes to get more public and oddsmakers support for 2017.
Arizona’s 26th ranking last year was based on wins above replacement, or WAR, and the value of their bullpen against replacement level players. By ERA the Diamondbacks were ranked 27th with a bullpen ERA of 4.94. They also gave up a ton of home runs, with their HR/9 coming in at 1.16 on the season – good for 22nd in the MLB. With no lockdown closer to speak of, and basically not many leads to protect, the Arizona bullpen only racked up 31 saves on the year too. Compare that with the best bullpen in the league for saves, the Texas Rangers, who picked up 56.
Kevin Jepsen brings the most recent string of success to the Diamondbacks minor league reliever pile, having a great 2015 season before coming off the rails in 2016. Arizona will be on the hook for a $2.25 million salary should Jepsen make the final roster out of camp, and for Arizona I’d think they’d be glad to pay it if Jepsen returns to form. Between time with the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins in 2015, Jepsen put up a 2.33 ERA over 69.2 innings out of the pen. But those numbers come with a bit of a caveat, as he ran a .242 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) that year, which is over 60 points below his career average. BABIP is a statistic most likely to regress to mean, as it is based on luck, so I take his 2015 career year with a bit of salt. However, if Jepsen can rediscover that form he makes a great fit for the Diamondbacks, as he keeps the ball in the yard. His career 8.4% HR/FB rate is excellent against the 13.1% that the Arizona bullpen ran as a team last year.
Brian Matusz becomes just the third lefty on the 40-man roster for the Diamondbacks, so his chances of making the team coming out of camp are pretty good for that reason alone. Matusz is a classic lefty on lefty specialist, with southpaws only batting .210 against him lifetime. In his career year in 2015 lefties only hit .185 off Matusz. So even if he doesn’t get all of his facilities back, or is stretched out as a starter like the Cubs briefly tried to do in 2016, Matusz has value for the Diamondbacks as a situational reliever. He compiled a 2.94 ERA over 49 innings in 2015 for the Orioles, so his ceiling is quite high in that regard. And like Jepsen, his 8.9% HR/FB rate that was put up in 2015 would be a welcome relief from all of the homers that the Arizona bullpen allowed in 2016.
These are the kind of low cost-high reward moves that will have to pay off if the Arizona Diamondbacks are to improve on their 69-93 record of 2016. With the addition of Taijuan Walker to a starting rotation that already features Zack Greinke, there are quite a few bolts to fill that bottle if everything goes right for the Diamondbacks pitching staff this year.