Red Sox: Joe Kelly’s low strikeout rate is becoming a concern

Apr 12, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Joe Kelly (56) pitches during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Joe Kelly (56) pitches during the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /
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Apr 8, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) delivers a pitch against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) delivers a pitch against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

Is there a reason for this drastic drop off in strikeout rate or is it merely the mirage of a small sample size?

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The good news is that Kelly’s velocity hasn’t fallen off, which is typically the cause of a pitcher seeing a decline in strikeouts. He’s averaging a tick over 98 mph on his fastball and can still dial it up to 100, according to PITCHf/x data provided by FanGraphs.

Kelly’s issues seem to be more related to location, as opposing hitters aren’t chasing his pitches outside of the zone as frequently.

Kelly’s fastball remains his most trusted option, throwing the heater 34.5 percent of the time. Last year he produced an O-Swing% of 28 percent with his fastball, which has fallen to 23.5 percent this year. His O-Swing% has declined even further on his slider, from 31.3 percent last year to 25.8 percent this season, while his curveball has fallen off from 27.3 percent to 14.3 percent.

Hitters laying off pitchers outside of the zone results in fewer swings and misses that strikeout pitchers rely on, while it also explains the increase in walks. Since hitters are swinging at a higher rate of his pitches inside the zone, the contact rate Kelly allows has skyrocketed – from 75.2 percent to 90.3 percent on his fastball and 70.8 percent to 80 percent on his curve.