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Angels have weak link at closer

Sep 16, 2009, 11:43 PM EST

Fuentes_Brian.standard[1].jpgThe Los Angeles Angels look like a solid championship contender this season.

They’ve got a good offense (1st in AL in hitting, 2nd in runs), speed on the bases (2nd in steals), a decent defense (6th in UZR) and a solid starting rotation that has improved with the addition of Scott Kazmir.

The weakness, if they have one, seems to be at closer, where the Angels replaced the record-setting (and expensive) Francisco Rodriguez with the crafty (and less expensive) journeyman Brian Fuentes.

Fuentes hasn’t been a disaster, saving 41 games. But he has blown seven save opportunities and been shaky enough at times to prompt manager Mike Scioscia to give rookie Kevin Jepsen some time in the ninth inning.

So, should the Angels replace Fuentes?

(Note: We’re not going to pin Wednesday night’s loss entirely on Fuentes, as he did have Nick Green struck out twice, only to be foiled by bad calls)

Eno Sarris breaks down the problem nicely over at Fangraphs, pointing out that Fuentes has pretty much given up on his curveball, and has lost velocity – and perhaps most alarmingly, a ton of movement – on his slider.

A case could certainly be made that Jepsen would make a better closer than Fuentes.

Jepsen does own the blazing fastball of a traditional closer (96.4 MPH this year), and with his two primary pitches coming down the pipe over 90 MPH (he owns a 90 MPH cutter that’s been worth 2.5 runs this year) he is a decent change of pace from Fuentes.

In fact, Jepsen profiles very differently from Fuentes in other ways. Fuentes is more of a fly-baller (46.9% fly balls), while Jepsen is inducing ground balls in bunches this year (58.6% ground balls). Jepsen is doing a great job supressing line drives (13.6%), and batters are centering Fuentes better (17.5%).

The big question is if Jepsen can continue to keep his walk rate down, as it was a bit of an issue in the minor leagues, and how well he can adjust to playoff pressure as a closer. For his part, he says he’s ready.

“Everybody has to have their first playoff experience — you’ve got to start somewhere,” said Jepsen, the setup man who has emerged as the team’s top reliever in the second half. “I can’t wait. I feel like I will feed off the energy, whether we’re home or away.”

I think it would be wise for Scioscia to take a long look at Jepsen down the stretch this month, and if he continues to look good, at least consider using both pitchers in save situations. Can’t hurt to have some insurance.

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  1. roy - Sep 17, 2009 at 12:54 AM

    your headline says week closer for the angels.i agree hes not that powerful.but how about weak ass umpire.that was the worst umpiring ive ever seen in a game.im going to be 40 real soon.that was horrible.that dumbass should be fined,suspended for the rest of the season and half of next year.he should also be put down to the minor leagues.the first base umpire should be fined also.stevey wonder couldve seen that guy swing that check swing.if that home plate umpire was my employee i wouldve fired him on the spot.theres no excuse for doing a bad job.if he cant do his job right then he should get his ass out of there.it is not the toughest job in the world to do.id trade him for a day or a couple weeks.

  2. Bobby Townsend - Sep 17, 2009 at 1:53 AM

    You are no doubt 10 years old so what are you doing up this late You say “Id trade him for a day or a couple of weeks” Do you want to explain that?

  3. Grant - Sep 17, 2009 at 5:52 AM

    Not to quibble (ok, to quibble), but I’d hardly call Fuentes a journeyman. He was traded when young as part of a deal for a veteran, then played out his service time and became a free agent, signing a multi-year deal. He’s not Paul Byrd or anything.

  4. yazmon - Sep 17, 2009 at 8:32 AM

    Clearly, the ball-three pitch to Green should have been called strike three. One wonders if the zone shrank after the verbal abuse heaped on the home plate and first base umpires after Green’s ‘check swing’ on ball two. Replays of that pitch show Green, despite his facial expressions, actually did check his swing. Cameras also caught the Angel coaches chirping at the umps. That being said, when watching games daily, 10 to 15 pitched balls per game seem to be called wrong but when the ump is consistent on that particular pitch, the beefing is minimal. Really the Angels only have themselves to blame for this loss, Fuentes’ got into the mess and Rivera showed a lack of hustle on Gonzalez’s bloop that every little leaguer would have dove for and many would have caught.

  5. Ryan - Sep 17, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    Replays of that pitch show Green, despite his facial expressions, actually did check his swing. –yazmon
    You lie!
    You could see the tip of the bat from the left field camera. If his bat weren’t beyond 180 degrees, that’d be impossible. It was a swing. Not only was there no reply that vindicated the swing, you completely made that up.

  6. IdahoMariner - Sep 17, 2009 at 12:07 PM

    I have to agree with Yazmon on this one — yeah, the last call was extremely, desperately bad. But 1) how did those three men on base get there in the first place? and 2) yeah, the checked swing is arguable either way. That’s what happens in this game. Sometimes you lose the close calls. Handle it. To whine about a bad call or a close call just makes you a loser. And that’s just sad on a team like the Angels, who should be way beyond this stuff.

  7. Bob - Sep 17, 2009 at 12:44 PM

    I agree with many of the comments above. After last night, I should have been furious. The umpiring was despicable and unnecessary. Truth be told, the Red Sox will cruise into the playoffs as the wild card. But the path for the Angels is minefield, if you look at their remaining schedule (seven games with Texas coming up, among others). In the AL West, one team (Texas or Los Angeles) will emerge the winner, and the other will go home. But it made me think of something else, something that made me resign to a horrible thought.
    There are powerful financial forces behind baseball, both from large investment institutions and TV networks. And what they have ordained is that there shall be a playoff between Boston and New York. The World Series does not even matter. To the powerful forces in the northeast, all that matters is the ALCS, their version of two scorpions in a box. They don’t want a baseball game. They want a dog fight. Michael Vick would be thrilled.
    And the Angels, and any other team like them? The powers that be simply don’t want them to win. The Angels, or any other contender from either league outside of Boston and New York are the equivalent of the Washington Generals vs the Harlem Globetrotters: nice guys, good players, but the outcome has been arranged in advance. And if it gets to close, simply order the umpire to alter his call. This way, the status quo will be preserved.
    I am saddened by this realization. And the only way to change this is to walk away from a game I once loved. But look at ESPN, for example. All that matters to them is their beloved Red Sox and Yankees. They essentially laugh at any other team. Look at Google News or MSNBC: the only stories are about New York and Boston. If you are not a fan of one or either team, you are out of luck. The point is, you don’t matter.
    Call me a conspiracy theorist. But think it over. There’s a game alright. And you and I are being played by big money forces.

  8. Brian C. - Sep 17, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    The Angels have many more problems other than Fuentes. They have no solid bullpen help at all. They have no clutch hitting. They continue to have Vlad hit cleanup. They have a starting pitcher who throws his own players under the bus…..are you listening John Lackey….remember Lackey made his own throwing error after Kendrick. But, the major problems they have are once the playoffs start they can’t hit and they have shown again and again that they can’t beat the Red Sox.

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