The Dodgers Made the Right Choice Signing Joe Kelly
Joe Kelly has the potential to be one of the best relievers in Major League Baseball—the keyword being potential.
For most of the season, Kelly has had Dodgers fans bemoaning the day he signed with the team. But with the July 3 win over the Diamondbacks, Kelly showed that he still has the stuff he was signed for.
Although Cody Bellinger emerged the hero that night, breaking the Dodger record for most home runs before the All-Star break (29), Kelly’s success on the mound set Bellinger up and gave Kelly much-needed support from the Dodger fanbase.
To recap that night, after the game went to extra innings, Kelly faced batters two, three, and four in the Diamondbacks’ lineup: Ketel Marte, Tim Locastro, and Eduardo Escobar.
He caught Marte looking at an outside curve and a nasty inside 99-mph four-seam fastball. Marte then swung at the third pitch, a low curve out of the strike zone, grounding out to second.
After getting Locastro to 1-2 in the count, Kelly made him chase a changeup that barely cleared home plate.
Kelly then hit 100 mph, a swing-and-miss strike down the middle, on his first pitch to Escobar. Escobar swung at the second pitch, an inside curve out of the strike zone, before flying out to shortstop.
In just eleven pitches, Kelly had put the Diamondbacks away for the win with the help of Bellinger’s home run.
The team signed Kelly at the end of last year to an eye-popping three-year $25 million contract. The six scoreless innings he pitched against the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series doubtlessly contributed to that.
Despite such high expectations, he struggled terribly through the beginning of this year. After ten games with the Dodgers, he had a 9.8 ERA. At the beginning of May, it ballooned to over 10.0. Despite improving slightly, by the end of May, his ERA remained above 8.0.
Other than a few hiccups, like an abysmal blown save against the Angels on June 10, Kelly started to turn his season around in mid-May. The Dodgers started using him more in low-leverage situations, and that seemed to relieve some of the pressure and allowed him to improve. Since May 28, he’s held hitters to a .174 average with a 1.46 ERA and 18 strikeouts.
As of this writing, he sits at 3-3, with a 5.28 ERA; still a distance from his career 3.94 ERA, but better than a month ago.
In his latest bout on the mound against the Padres, on July 6, he gave another three-up-three-down performance with two strikeouts.
Kelly’s latest breakout is not out of character. Although he’s never been a Craig Kimbrel, he has shown the potential for greatness in the past. Like Kimbrel, and unlike fellow Dodger reliever Kenley Jansen, he possesses the ability to unpredictably stump hitters with multiple pitches. And, unlike Kimbrel, he can hit 98-100 mph with his two-seam and four-seam fastballs on command.
The problem, however, is that just as often he gives the impression that he doesn’t belong in the MLB. Last year, as Fansided noted, he posted ERA’s over 8.0 in June, July, and September but posted ERA’s under 2.0 in April, May, and August. Furthermore, he only allowed one earned run in all last postseason when he pitched 11 and 1/3 innings.
“His stuff is filthy. It’s just about getting it in the (strike) zone. The curveball is unhittable when he puts it where he wants to,” remarked Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.
His latest hot streak shows that perhaps, rather than being overvalued, his struggles amounted to simple growing pains with a new club.
It’s also important to note that the entire Dodgers bullpen has put up a subpar performance. Despite being the best team in baseball right now, at the end of May, the bullpen ranked 14th. Kelly’s improvement seems to have moved in tandem with it because, by July 4, the bullpen had improved to ninth.
Kelly has temporarily renewed the confidence of Dodger fans in himself and in the Dodger organization. The team’s scouts knew what they were doing and Dave Roberts knew what Kelly was capable of when signing him for a such an incredible sum.
When Joe Kelly is on his game, few relievers can match him. If he can keep up his recent performance, the Dodgers will prove unstoppable this year, and Kelly will have proven his contract’s worth.
Author: Jacob Grandstaff
Jacob Grandstaff is a co-founder of YourWorld Media. He graduated in 2015 from the University of North Alabama with a B.A. in history. He taught high school before attending the National Journalism Center in 2017 where he wrote for Capital Research Center. He lives in the Washington, DC area and enjoys writing about history, sports, and current events.