After signing a three year, $25 million deal this past offseason, the expectations were high for Kelly. He was coming off a dominant postseason performance where he gave up only two runs in 11.1 innings pitched. This included six scoreless innings against the Dodgers in the World Series. He was nearly unhittable, striking out ten batters and walking none.
So after the Dodgers pried him away from the Boston Red Sox, many believed he would become the long-needed setup man for Los Angeles. However, his first season in Dodger blue has proven to be a roller coaster many fans haven’t wanted to be on in the first place.
After a nightmarish first two months, however, Joe Kelly has been absolutely dominant. Let’s look closer at exactly how far Kelly has come this year:
The Low-April & May
For the first two months of the season, whenever Dave Roberts would bring Joe Kelly in from the pen, you could almost hear the collective sigh from fans anticipating Kelly blowing yet another game. Unfortunately, this was warranted – in his first 18.1 innings pitched in a Dodger uniform, Kelly gave up 18 runs. Kelly was literally giving up one run per inning, and it wasn’t pretty to watch.
The right-hander appeared to hit rock bottom on May 27. It was a game against the lowly Mets, where Kelly allowed two runs without recording an out. The Dodgers were winning 8-3 at that point, but Kelly allowed a two run home run to Adeiny Hechavarria, making it a three-run game. Fans wondered if this would be another game blown by the bullpen.
The Dodgers ended up winning that game, but Kelly saw his ERA balloon to a season high 8.83. He also owned a 1.90 WHIP, and batters were hitting .351 against him. Fans were demanding for Kelly’s release, tired of seeing him either wildly miss his spots or serve pitches right down the middle to opposing batters.
The High-June & July
However, after that May 27th outing, Kelly found something. Since that game, he has given up one earned run in 13.1 innings pitched. He’s seen his ERA and BAA drop to 5.28 and .270, respectively. He’s also racked up 20 strikeouts in that time. Appropriately, Dave Roberts has appropriately rewarded Kelly’s success by using him in high-leverage situations.
Kelly pitched in back to back games against the Diamondbacks to kickoff July. On July 2nd, he entered the fifth inning to relieve Ross Stripling after he had given up a run. There were two runners on with two out, with Arizona up 4-3. After hitting Jake Lamb with a pitch, Kelly struck out Nick Ahmed to get out of the jam.
Kelly went on to pitch a scoreless sixth. He was the first of four relievers to put up zeroes following Stripling, in a bullpen effort that helped the Dodgers to win the game 5-4 in the ninth after walking five times with two outs to score two runs.
On July 3rd, he pitched in the 10th inning of a 4-4 tie. Closer Kenley Jansen had just blown a ninth inning lead. Enter Joe Kelly, who easily retired the side on 11 pitches, with two of the three batters being the dangerous Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar. The Dodgers went on to win thanks to Cody Bellinger‘s second home run of the game, on their way to their fifth straight walk-off win at home. Joe Kelly got the win.
Looking Forward to the Second Half
Kelly’s resurgence is certainly reassuring for Dodger fans, and it appears he’s poised to step up as the team’s set up man. He still walks too many batters, and there will always be the fear of regressing back to his April/May form. But as evident from his numbers the past two months, opposing hitters are struggling to make any kind of quality contact against him, which is a strong indicator he is on an upward trajectory.
The Dodgers will surely look to upgrade their bullpen in the coming weeks before the July 31st trade deadline. Until then, Kelly has proven he can help bridge the gap to Kenley Jansen. And if Kelly performs in October like he has the past two months, his terrible start as a Dodger will be all but erased from the minds of Dodger fans.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images