Joe Kelly’s career with the LA Dodgers didn’t get off to a hot start.
After befuddling Dodger hitters in the World Series in 2018, Kelly continued to do damage to the Dodgers upon his arrival in LA. His roller-coaster season culminated in the saddest moment of the season when he allowed the Howie Kendrick grand slam that ultimately put the nail in the coffin that housed the Dodgers’ postseason hopes.
Kelly had a miserable start to his season. The Dodgers’ big bullpen acquisition had an ERA over 8.00 through May and briefly had a K/BB below 1.00, despite his scorching fastball. Kelly was really struggling with his command, particularly with his fastball. He had a hard time establishing the fastball early in the count, causing him to fall behind.
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Luckily, after working with coaches Rick Honeycutt and Mark Prior, Kelly was able to improve his fastball command and return to form after a slight adjustment in his delivery. He posted a 1.00 ERA over the month of June and looked a lot like the pitcher the Dodgers had envisioned when they signed him to a three-year $27 million deal this offseason. He did have a couple of flare-ups down the stretch but managed a solid 3.48 ERA in the second half. Kelly posted a 5-4 record, 4.56 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 62 strikeouts over 51.1 innings for the season.
It’s hard to doubt that Kelly has the tools for being a lights-out reliever. His wiry 6’1” frame doesn’t scream power pitcher, but he regularly touches triple digits with his fastball and uncorks 90+ mph curveballs. His fastball velocity and curveball spin ranked in the 98th and 99th percentiles, respectively. Kelly also generates elite movement on his sinker and changeup. The stuff has always been there for Kelly, but his effectiveness hinges on his control. It doesn’t matter how electric a pitcher’s stuff is if he doesn’t have command over it, as Kelly made clear early in the season.
Joe Kelly 2019 Season Grade: C
He looked unhittable at times and pitched well in the second half, but he was just too horrendous early on for his season to be totally salvaged.
However, if newly appointed pitching coach Mark Prior can help keep Kelly’s fastball command in check and return to World Series from, as well as make some strides with newly acquired bounce-back candidate Blake Treinen, the Dodgers will have a very potent punch in the back end of their bullpen.