The Padres acquired yet another player today, as the new General Manager continues to trade away the prospects the past General Manager acquired for win-now assets. You could call Shawn Kelley just a reliever, but that doesn’t make him sound special. He is a little special, though, and he could absolutely close.
A word from our Prospector General on the guy San Diego gave up first — Johnny Barbato was a sixth-round pick with decent numbers relieving in the minor leagues so far. Kiley McDaniel said that he has a “55 fastball and 60 curve as starter with command issues and doesn’t really throw a changeup, so the relief fit is obvious. Fastball plays up to 60 (92-95, touching 97 mph) in short relief stints, so if he can command those two pitches enough, he could be late relief, but more likely is middle relief fit.”
The Yankees may have been cutting costs — Kelley is in his final year of arbitration, due almost three million dollars, and coming off what looks to be a mediocre year by results.
But dive a little deeper, and Kelley is a top-shelf reliever.
By strikeout rate over the last two seasons combined at least, Kelley is a top-15 reliever. He’s had some issues with the walk, so he’s only top 20 when judged by strikeouts minus walks.
Of course there’s a bigger flaw than his walk rate, or the guy with all the strikeouts might have had more saves by now. Over that same time frame, Kelley’s homer rate was also top 15.
Talk to the pitcher, as I did in mid 2013, and it’s just about execution.
I’ve always given up a few homers here and there, I’m aggressive and I attack the zone. I was making some mistakes early in the season. I had a rough week where I gave up three or four in one week. It was about executing my pitches. Make sure the slider is in the dirt. I was making some mistakes.
For a guy that owns a better-than-average walk rate for his career, it looks like command sometimes leaves him for stretches. Not a big deal, maybe.
Unless it speaks to a platoon issue? Kelley threw his slider more often than his fastball last year (and second-most in baseball). It still had the eighth-best whiff rate on a slider in baseball (minimum 100 thrown), so it’s deadly. But we know sliders can have platoon issues, and so does Kelley, so he has a plan for the pitch:
Use to both sides of the plate — backdoor and back foot — so it kind of makes it two pitches. Being able to throw it harder and also being able to take a little off makes it two sliders. I throw more of a slurve to get more depth and movement. I can throw that slower one around the back corner of the plate to the lefty to get him to take or give up on it. I can command it and do different things with it, so I’m not technically a two-pitch pitcher.
You can see Kelley’s slower, slurvier sliders on the left-hand side of this scatter chart for his 2014 sliders.
It’s been a successful plan when judged by platoon peripherals. For his career, Kelley has a higher strikeout rate against lefties. Yes, his walks go up too, but his homer rate is about a third of his homer rate against righties, and his ground-ball rate against lefties is also higher.
Slightly above average velocity for a reliever, decent control, good command when he’s executing right, a deadly slider he can manipulate to avoid platoon issues, and a shrug for his home runs? Pair that with a top-15 strikeout rate, and it sounds like a late-inning reliever and possible closer. Even for one year of control, that’s worth a future reliever that may require Tommy John surgery soon.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.
With a projected 3.60 FIP?