We've been clamoring for this for a while now but it was finally made official at the end of Wednesday night's victory over the Marlins: Kevin Jepsen has been ousted as the closer for the Twins.
A solid pitcher after joining the team in a midseason trade, Jepsen seemed like the natural choice to step in after Glen Perkins went down with a shoulder injury early in the season. However, it's been nothing but a disaster as last year's version disappeared and we've been forced to watch a pitcher where no lead was safe.
Perhaps it was a surprise that Brandon Kintzler was the man saved until the very end to close out the 7-5 victory. After all, Kintzler is a sinkerballer that doesn't seem like your prototypical closer. Additionally, a lot of fans would rather see Trevor May or even J.T. Chargois as they possess the stuff to shut down the best of lineups. Even more interesting was that Molitor said he would split closing duties between Kintzler and Fernando Abad, the best reliever the Twins have had all season.
This may seem like a questionable decision on the surface but bear with me here. First, closers are vastly overrated. There's this old belief that your best pitcher must be the closer and that he cannot be used unless it's a save situation or it's a tie game at home. This severely limits when you actually use your best reliever. May doesn't have the prettiest results, but he's got the best process to get hitters out and shouldn't be shackled to the closer role so Molitor can deploy him when necessary (such as on Wednesday when May was called upon to get a critical out in the 6th inning). If the Twins are going to lose, they should lose when using their best reliever, not lose when he's forced to watch from the bullpen, waiting for a save opportunity that never came as his inferior teammates blew the lead.
Secondly, the Twins should be interested in boosting Kintzler's and Abad's trade value. I have no problem if you argue that either or both of them belong in future Twins bullpens, but we should also remember that relievers are extremely volatile. Don't forget Casey Fien and Jared Burton, pitchers that were picked off the scrap heap, served their purpose for several years, then were dumped when they suddenly lost their magic. (For what it's worth, Fien has rediscovered it in Los Angeles, however.) While neither pitcher would bring back a substantial return, it's still a reasonable choice to have them work higher leverage roles to make them more attractive to playoff contenders as we approach the July 31st trade deadline. If no trade package catches the Twins' eyes, then boom, they stay with the Twins for the rest of the season and likely next season as well.
As for Jepsen, he presumably will be banished to low leverage situations until he gets himself straightened out. Matt Capps 2.0? Sadly, it's starting to feel that way. J.T. Chargois, where art thou?