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, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.