Rays Trade Joyce for Jepsen
On Tuesday, the Rays announced the trade of Matt Joyce to the Angels in exchange for right-handed reliever Kevin Jepsen.
Joyce spent parts of five season with the Rays after coming over from Detroit in a trade for Edwin Jackson. A left-handed batter, he failed to become an everyday player; however, with the league being predominantly right-handed, he was a primary member of the lineup most nights. He has one year left of arbitration eligibility before hitting free agency. His service time, salary and the organization’s outfield depth meant an end of his time with the club was near.
In return, Tampa Bay receives Kevin Jepsen. The 30-year-old comes with 315 major-league appearances under his belt. He was previously a super-two player which granted him for years of arbitration eligibility. He has two of those years remaining.
Prior to the 2014 season, I wrote the player comment for Jepsen in the Baseball Prospectus Annual:
Mo’ money, mo’ problems. Commanding seven figures for the first time in his career, Jepsen spent half the season dealing with injuries. A shoulder sprain in early April and an appendectomy in late August disabled him for nearly 90 days. In between, he allowed more than a baserunner and a half per inning. Jepsen curtailed the use of his cutter for the traditional heater—a mid-90s pitch that is nonetheless hittable—while tossing a handful of curveballs and changeups to keep up appearances. The breaking ball flashes as an out pitch and could be a weapon against batters on either side of the plate. Perhaps in an attempt to find more consistency, Jepsen has stretched his arm action and flip-flopped spots on the rubber. One of these days he’s going to figure it all out and leave opposing batters in a trail of tumbleweeds and tears.
Jepsen did not figure it all out, but did figure out enough in to be a good, late-inning reliever. His fastball continued to live north of 95 mph and was typically located above the waist. He likes to keep the pitch away from batters on both sides with shows some semblance of command.
The biggest augmentation came from Jepsen’s secondary offerings. As mentioned in the comment, his curveball was already a quality offering. That said, he barely tossed the pitch 10 percent of the time. That usage jumped to over 20 percent, and with great success. Opposing batters hit .130/.145/.185 off the hook and came up empty on nearly 45 percent of their swings. He is not afraid to use the low-80s offering early in the count; although his preference appears to be using it to end plate appearances.
Jepsen also began using a changeup with regularity for the first time. The result of that venture was promising. Thrown a bit harder than the curveball, but still nearly 10 ticks off the fastball, the changeup was the catalyst in narrowing what was previously a sizable platoon split. Primarily thrown down and arm-side, he used the off-speed judicially versus the opposite hand. Lefties hit just .176 off the pitch while missing on over 40 percent of their hacks. The off-speed was also nifty against same-siders in limited action.
In terms of movement or visual aesthetics, the changeup alone does not stand out. Meanwhile, in conjunction with the fastball, it may play up past its’ “natural” ability. The pitches share similar grips and arm speed, but have a noteworthy gap in velocity and location. The change of speeds and eye level are likely enhancing what would probably grade out as a below-average offering by a scout.
The addition of Jepsen, along with previous signing of Ernesto Frieri, makes more sense after it was reported that Jake McGee underwent elbow surgery last week and is expected to miss the start of the season. Jepsen and Frieri, in addition to Brad Boxberger and Grant Balfour, give the club multiple options at the back-end of games until McGee can rejoin the mix.