It was Opening Day 2018. The Boston Red Sox were up 4-0 over the Tampa Bay Rays in the 8th inning and well on their way to getting Chris Sale a win to kick off the new season. Joe Kelly, one of Boston’s more enigmatic relievers from 2017 was called from the bullpen to bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel. He promptly allowed 4 runs on a hit and 3 walks and became the early season goat for Red Sox Nation.
Fast forward a month and 5 days and Kelly is now arguably Boston’s most reliable arm out of the bullpen, as well as their muscle when the benches clear vs. their arch rivals. Since that Opening Day debacle, Kelly has pitched 12.1 scoreless innings, and even more impressive is how he’s done it.
(Photo credit: Boston Sports Journal)
In those 12.1 innings, Kelly has allowed just 7 base runners (6 hits, 1 walk). After allowing 3 walks in that 1st game, that BB number is incredibly impressive and has been absolutely vital to his success. He’s holding opponents to a .143 BA, a .182 OBP, and a .167 SLG, all while fanning 12. That’s good for a 27.3 K%.
Breaking down his performance even further paints the picture of a pitcher in complete control of his stuff. He’s averaging 97.2 mph on his fastball, 4 of which he’s reached triple digits with. He’s also throwing more sliders, perhaps his most effective pitch when he’s on, than he ever has before at a 20.4% clip, effectively keeping opposing hitters completely off balance and unable to sit on a fastball in their zone. He’s used all 4 of his pitches consistently and to great effect. Not only has his fastball had zip, but his slider has had bite and his curveball has been breaking sharply.
Add all of this up and the Red Sox have a pitcher they can count on in high leverage situations late in games. It’s something that they’ve been searching for since losing Koji Uehara after the 2016 season, and it’s just another piece of the puzzle that they’re building in their attempt to not only win a 3rd straight division crown, but also a 4th World Series title this century.