The Dodgers and right-handed reliever Joe Kelly are in agreement on a three-year, $25 million deal, per reports from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Robert Murray, Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, and MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand early Thursday morning:
Kelly, 30, has been a bit of an enigma during a seven-year major-league career, which has been split between the rotation and the bullpen and between the Cardinals and Red Sox. If you take a quick look at his stat line in 2018, he doesn’t appear to have been anything particularly special, as he posted a 4.39 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP with 68 strikeouts and 32 walks over 65.2 innings. A deeper dig, however, reveals that while Kelly had some disastrous months (June, during which he surrendered a .979 OPS to opposing hitters, and September, when he issued an .882 OPS), he was also downright dominant for some parts of the year (such as March and April, when opponents hit .150/.244/.200 against him, and May, when he limited opposing hitters to a ridiculous .109/.212/.109 slash line). Fortunately for Kelly, he was at his best on a national stage in October, when he posted a 0.79 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP with 13 strikeouts and no walks over 11.1 postseason innings. He pitched in all five games of the World Series, allowing just four hits and no runs over six innings.
Obviously, major-league front offices aren’t too easily fooled by the small sample sizes that are postseason numbers these days. But Kelly does the thing that modern front offices seem to value most in relievers really well — he throws really hard. Per Statcast’s leaderboard, Kelly’s four-seam fastball had the eighth-highest average velocity in baseball in 2018 at 98.1 MPH (and that’s not really a fair way to phrase things, because all three of Jordan Hicks’ variations of the fastball were thrown harder, as were two of Aroldis Chapman’s). In the postseason, Kelly tied with his now-former Red Sox teammate Nathan Eovaldi for the second-highest average fastball velocity in the majors at 98.9 MPH. At 101.2 MPH, he also tied for the seventh hardest-thrown pitch of the postseason.
Kelly, an Anaheim native, provides a very significant upgrade to the Dodgers’ bullpen, which was rather unimpressive beyond Kenley Jansen in 2018 — and even the three-time All-Star closer had a bit of a down season by his standards as he dealt with the effects of a heart condition. Kelly should be the primary setup man more often than not in front of Jansen in 2019, though Dave Roberts obviously is a manager that isn’t afraid of non-traditional pitcher usage, so it’s certainly possible that we could see Kelly in the middle innings on occasion. The Dodgers have shown that they don’t mind pushing their highly-paid relievers — even though he spent 10 days in August on the DL, Jansen managed to throw 71.2 innings in the second year of a five-year, $80 million-dollar deal — so it wouldn’t be a shock to see Kelly put his starting experience to good use and throw multiple innings on a more consistent basis with the Dodgers.
Kelly’s signing continues a mini-run on relievers during the wee hours of the final big day of the Winter Meetings. It follows the Mets’ reported reunion with Jeurys Familia on a three-year, $30 million deal.