Red Sox: Bold predictions that may come true in 2017
By Sean Penney
Joe Kelly will be the best reliever in the Red Sox bullpen
Remember the days when Joe Kelly was predicting that he would win the Cy Young? He’s been brutal as a starting pitcher but may have found his niche in the bullpen.
Why it could happen:
The Red Sox finally made the long overdue decision to move Kelly to the bullpen late last season, where he thrived in his new role. He owned a fantastic 1.02 ERA and struck out 21 batters over 17 2/3 innings to wrap up the season, followed by 3 2/3 shutout innings of relief in the postseason. No Red Sox pitcher who made more than seven appearances out of the bullpen last season posted a lower ERA, while only Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara had higher strikeout rates than Kelly’s 10.70 K/9.
In 70 1/3 career innings as a reliever, Kelly owns a 2.69 ERA and has struck out a batter per inning. We have at least a full season’s worth of data that shows Kelly is capable of being an elite reliever, a role where he can dial up the velocity on his fastball and his limited arsenal won’t be exposed.
Why it won’t happen:
Kimbrel, the fire-breathing closer making north of $13 million, should be considered the favorite to be the team’s best reliever. He’s coming off a down year by his standards, but was arguably the most dominant closer in baseball over the previous five years.
Kelly’s brilliance out of the bullpen last season came in a small sample size, so it remains to be seen if he can deliver anywhere near those results over the course of a full season. His shaky control has been an issue that has plagued him in the past. He’s found more success in that department out of the bullpen but his career 3.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a reliever would barely have cracked the top 100 among major league relievers last season.
Moving Kelly to the bullpen was the right move to salvage his floundering pitching career and he could dominate in his new role. However, Boston’s bullpen is loaded with power arms, so the competition for the team’s best reliever will be stiff.