The Boston Red Sox were lucky to be able to agree with starting pitcher Joe Kelly on salary, as he may be primed for a big year. Arbitration is avoided.
Earlier today, BoSox Injection had a report about Kelly and the Red Sox agreeing to a new deal. Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported that “It was the first year of arbitration eligibility for Kelly, who went 10-6 with a 4.82 ERA in 2015. The 27-year-old righty went on an eight-start stretch in which he went 8-0 with a 2.59 ERA before being shut down for the final three weeks of the season with an elbow issue.”
Kelly was part of the John Lackey deal that sent the veteran pitcher to the St. Louis Cardinals, little less than a year after winning the World Series for Boston in 2013. Kelly was expected to fill the void with excellent pitching while his youth would suggest staying power for years to come. Instead, the Red Sox and their fans may have felt that they had the wrong end of the deal.
The much-older Lackey went 13-10 with a 2.77 ERA in 2015, making an impact in his first full season with his new team. By July, Kelly’s ERA ballooned to 8.31 and also spent time in the minors to find what remained of his promising career as a starter.
However, Kelly’s almost-miraculous winning streak has some people wondering if the young man has finally figured it out.
Before the dog days of last year’s summer, Kelly’s approach was pretty simple: strike everyone out. Every time he started on the mound, he would use his fastball to try to zip pitches past opposing batters, no matter the situation. With a 95-mph fastball, who wouldn’t? In his first two seasons with the Cards, Kelly struck out 154 batters. He even struck out 68 batters from April to July of last year; however, Kelly also allowed 56 runs in 83.1 innings during that same span.
His location was the problem, as it was pretty iffy after coming back from a few injuries, especially to start the 2015 season. Batters were hitting .342 against Kelly, before his hot streak. For the last couple of season, Kelly moved towards using his curveball more often than his slider as his secondary pitch option, which contributed to many hanging pitches driven around the ballpark. Every pitch, including his fastballs, were missing high and either struck a batter out or were bashed for runs.
The best thing that Kelly ever did in August was rediscovering his slider. To end the season, Kelly more than doubled his use of the slider and demoted his curveball to the fourth option in his arsenal. The pitch stayed lower in the strikezone, gaining a few more notches of velocity than in previous seasons. The decision influenced his other pitches, as well. According to BrooksBaseball.com, batters couldn’t even touch his fastball between August and his last start of the season in September, before going on the shelf, once again, by injury.
The wins just kept on coming, with the potential for bigger success in 2016. With a starting rotation that was bolstered by adding free agent David Price, the Red Sox making a run from the American League cellar back to the post-season could hinge on another dominant pitcher. Kelly could be the man for the job, if he has healed enough by then. So far, so good, so the Red Sox may be counting themselves lucky this April that they were able to sign Kelly and avoid arbitration. Not because the team wouldn’t be able to afford the price tag as much as being able to brag about having a great return on a much smaller investment.