Continuing Coverage of Joe Kelly, or Kelly’s Wild Night

Those who made it through yesterday’s 13-inning National League Championship Series opener were treated to the latest chapter in “The Legend of Carlos Beltran.” He drove in all three of the Cardinals’ runs, adding to his legacy as perhaps the best postseason hitter of all time. Hidden behind the story of Beltran’s postseason greatness was Joe Kelly‘s shaky, yet effective start.

Prior to yesterday’s game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, Dave Cameron and Jeff Sullivan spent about 2,000 words, four GIFs, and two tables covering who Kelly is, his most noteworthy skills, and why the Cardinals chose to start him in Game One of the NLCS. You can find those articles here and here. In short, it was determined that Kelly probably isn’t as good as his career 3.08 ERA, but may not be as bad as his 4.00 FIP either. Jeff offered Henderson Alvarez as a comparable player.

Before we dive into the meat and potatoes of why we’re spending more time covering Kelly, viewers of last night’s game may have noticed that he wears glasses on the mound, but not at the plate. This is counter intuitive, since hitting clearly requires better eye sight than pitching (I can personally attest to this, I wore contacts to hit but not to pitch). TBS’ Craig Sager got the skinny via Adam Wainwright:

Wainwright asked him, what are you doing, why do you do this? And he says it’s the craziest answer he ever heard. According to Kelly, he sees the ball too well when he wears glasses at the plate. He picks up the spin, he gets excited, he gets anxious, and he swings at everything. According to Kelly, it’s better if he doesn’t see the ball as well.

This is the kind of baseball lunacy typically associated with left-handed pitchers. Clearly, this is a unique man deserving of continuing coverage.

There was some controversy about Mike Matheny‘s choice of Kelly over rookie sensation Shelby Miller, making this an interesting game for second guessers and armchair managers everywhere. By the numbers that count, Kelly had a strong outing. He allowed two runs over six innings, earning the quality start even if “quality” is not the first adjective that comes to mind. His stuff showed great life with a 96 mph sinker, sharp curveballs and sliders, and a sweet changeup that he used for a couple strikeouts.

Kelly’s start had blemishes too – namely wildness – and the Cardinals were fortunate to survive the outing. In the first, he got ahead of Hanley Ramirez only to drill him in the ribs. He later uncorked an ugly wild pitch that allowed base runners to advance. The wild night continued from there. Below is a scatter plot of his pitch locations from the catcher’s perspective.

Joe Kelly Pitch Locations

That chart is a bit deceptive. Yes, the pitches are all over the place, including a few too many right down the middle. But it hides the sheer volume of bounced pitches. Kelly spent more time playing in the dirt than a five-year-old boy, bouncing 12 out of 95 pitches. Let’s turn to the images.

The Good (strikeouts from first inning)
Joe Kelly - bounced K Crawford
Carl Crawford whiffing on a 0-2 curveball
Joe Kelly - Puig K
Yasiel Puig swinging over a 2-2 curveball

The Bad
Joe Kelly - bounce on plate to Hanley

Hanley Ramirez watching a ball bounce off the plate

The Ugly
Joe Kelly - WP to Gonzalez

Wild pitch to Adrian Gonzalez
Joe Kelly - bounced to Hanley
Bounced pitch to Ramirez

As the categories suggest, context is important. In the first inning, Kelly bounced two sharp curveballs to Crawford and another good one to Puig, all of which resulted in strikes. The latter strikeout may not have been meant for the dirt since there was a runner on third. A few others, like the pitch to Ramirez in the “Bad” category were pitches that Molina asked for low.

The two in the Ugly category stand out as among the wildest pitches I’ve seen in a MLB contest. The red circle in the image with Adrian Gonzalez at the plate shows where the ball hit the dirt. The pitch to Hanley Ramirez nearly didn’t reach the dirt cutout. The circle indicates where the ball is hitting the ground – it’s hidden behind Kelly’s leg.

Despite the erratic evening, Kelly nearly survived the outing without allowing a run. He came within inches of preventing the two runs that scored in the third on Juan Uribe‘s single.

Joe Kelly - Uribe single

To Kelly’s credit, he kept the Dodgers hitters off balance all evening, which helped him to escape without allowing heavy damage. While it would be a stretch to suggest that he outdueled Zack Greinke, he pitched well enough to keep the Cardinals offense in the game.

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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, MLB Trade Rumors, and The Fake Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

12 Responses to “Continuing Coverage of Joe Kelly, or Kelly’s Wild Night”

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  1. channelclemente says:

    I thought Kelly improved noticeably when Metheny had Molina go out and pull him down of the wall, and relax. It would be interesting to cluster your comments on his performance into pre and post that trip to the mound.

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  2. Todd says:

    Considering Greinke went 8 innings while also giving up 2 runs, no, he certainly did not outduel Greinke. Nor, in my opinion, did he pitch well. But he managed to keep his trend of peripherals-defying results going… for which I, as a Cardinals’ fan, thank him… and request that Matheny PLEASE not start him again over Lynn and Miller.

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    • chuckb says:

      Pretty sure Miller has been shut down for the season.

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      • BMarkham says:

        We really deserve an explanation from Matheny about what’s going on. Considering they’re starting Lynn in game 4 even though he pitched two innings in game 1, he’s obviously not telling us something. If they’re not starting him he should at least be a high leverage reliever.

        We have two relievers that we basically refuse to use, Mujica being the other one. If Matheny’s not going to use them we should of had someone else on the roster spot.

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        • Richard says:

          Why? The Cards may not have a better reliever than Mujica (definitely not Miller). That doesn’t mean that you should use Mujica when leverage is high if everyone else in the bullpen is better. You could make a better case that Mujica should be replaced by a bench bat/runner/glove.

          Also, with Lynn starting game 4, Miller is now the emergency long-man.

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  3. Ruki Motomiya says:

    So, will Joe Kelly be getting a monopoly on postseason Worst of the Best?

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  4. Purple Jesus says:

    Henderson Alverez may be a good comparison through numbers .. but the eye test for Alvarez sucks watching him on the blue jays .. would much much much rather have kelly on my team

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  5. triple_r says:

    How many of these pitches would have qualified for the Week’s Wildest Pitches?

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  6. jose says:

    His best “wild pitch” was the one that embedded into Hanley’s left rib cage. That pitch was a Series changer: it nuetralized the Dodgers’ main clog who just happened to be “in the zone” hitting wise. Don’t know if that was part of the plan, but with Kemp out for the season and all the other injuries, this one pitch has created a vast hole in the Dodgers lineup. Pinto is a major come down from a Hanley Ramirez, especially one experiencing a terrific “in the zone” moment. Again, I don’t know if it was part of the advance planning against the Dodgers, but that single pitch has had an enormous impact on this short series; essentially eliminating the opposition’s main clog. What would a Boston team be like if Big Papi, David Ortiz, was nuetralized and unable to perform?

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