Boston Red Sox: A potential development path for Joe Kelly

Sep 9, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly (56) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 9, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Joe Kelly (56) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox Joe Kelly has the arm and just may follow a similar path as Dave Stewart. If so, the Red Sox would have a star pitcher.

The Boston Red Sox have a pitcher who is currently in the realm of Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – you never know what you will get. In 2015, the Red Sox had a pitching version of the Roman God Janus that represents both a beginning and an end of a conflict with right-hander Joe Kelly. The beginning conflict of the season was mired in frustration and poor performances that eventually resulted in a scenic excursion on I-95 to Pawtucket.

At Pawtucket Kelly made four starts for a 1-1 record in 19 innings pitched. The walks were limited to six and the home run total allowed – a Kelly specialty – was a mere one. A recovery? The end of conflict? In August and September, Kelly was almost untouchable and spun eight wins without a loss until an arm injury shut down his season as the Red Sox were not about to take further risks.

I will not regurgitate the various metrics regarding Kelly that even the casual Red Sox fans may have memorized. Kelly throws hard, gives up home runs, is prone to fits of poor control and when on can be downright nasty. Kelly will be 28-years-old in June and may be on borrowed baseball time. But with Kelly I am whisked back a few decades to Dave Stewart, who is now General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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Stewart, the pitcher, was a power tossing right-hander who four times won twenty games and four times led the American League in starts. Stewart had an excellent post season record (10-6, 2.77) and has four World Series rings in his collection. Stewart also has a World Series MVP Award and two Championship Series Awards. You get the picture – this was one remarkable pitcher who finished his career at 168-129.

Stewart broke into MLB at age 21 and spent service time with the Dodgers, Texas, Philadelphia and with several minor league stops before ending up with Oakland. Stewart was a pitcher with great potential talent, but the end results were dismal. And Oakland represented a last gasp as even the Orioles refused to give Stewart a shot at Double-A. Stewart’s first year was 9-5 with the A’s and then came the bulk of his career and that essentially started at 29-years-old.

When I see Kelly pitch I see some of the same pitching prowess with a fastball that can intimidate and peripheral pitches that play off the heat. For Stewart, it took almost ten years to harness his ability and put it all together in a consistent package. Sometimes it just takes longer and patience to the nth degree. Only the A’s took a chance created the Stewart that became such a dependable pitcher.

Will the Kelly we saw be the Stewart that went 9-5 in his first season with the A’s? Kelly’s last five home starts showed 28.2 innings and nine runs allowed with a lone home run. That is a taste of what could become a pitching force in the rotation or you could see a reversion to the Kelly that ended up pitching his way to Pawtucket. The only performance parallel to Stewart is disappointment except for that one streak in the late season. Pitching hope springs eternal.

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The key will be patience or just how much pitching rope is given to Kelly. Will a few starts that resemble a pitching piñata force the Red Sox to make a move? Henry Owens and Brian Johnson are certainly ready for the next advancement and they could oust Kelly if his performances revert. If not, the Red Sox could easily have themselves a Stewart clone.

Sources: Baseball-Reference