The Red Sox are expected to acquire at least two starting pitchers this offseason as, after dealing Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy away this summer, their rotation is quite depleted. However, their search for reliable starters could be made significantly easier if their current pitchers are able to exceed expectations going forward and Joe Kelly could be a prime candidate to do just that.
Acquired from the Cardinals as part of the Lackey trade, Kelly’s 2014 season was not hugely encouraging but, despite some command issues, he did turn in a passable season altogether. He posted a 4.20 ERA in 17 starts on the season, a mark which was actually lowered to 4.11 in his 10 starts with the Red Sox, and his FIP of 4.37 was not too far from that.
Despite those relatively unimpressive results, though, there are a number of reasons why Kelly could and should step it up in 2015.
The first of those is simple: he’s got fantastic stuff. The 26 year old right-hander throws his fastball well into the upper 90’s with heavy sink, an elite pitch that has generated swings and misses as well as plenty of ground balls. Command of that fastball has long been a bit of a problem for Kelly, who has walked 3.4 batters per nine innings over the course of his career, but entering his prime, it’s possible that he can trim that rate going forward. After all, as Kelly acclimates to playing baseball in Boston, he’ll no doubt gain comfort and perhaps return to his St. Louis form (before being traded to the Red Sox, Kelly had a 2.6 BB/9, the best mark of his career).
Given his youth and inexpensive contract status (Kelly is under team control until after the 2018 season), the Red Sox will give Kelly plenty of chances to succeed. His ceiling isn’t that of an elite starter, but he has a great chance to become a solid Major League starter sooner rather than later given his elite fastball and even his track record of Major League success, as Kelly posted a 2.69 ERA in 37 games (15 starts) during the Cardinals’ run to the World Series (where they, of course, lost to the Red Sox).
There are certainly questions over his control and his relatively low strikeout rate (though he at least partially makes that up with a strong ground ball rate). Regardless of the doubts, though, Kelly could become a very solid pitcher for the Red Sox and next year could be when he starts that positive trajectory.