Someone Dodger fans don’t have fond memories of is reportedly joining the team.

Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Dodgers are close to a deal with free agent reliever Joe Kelly. Jeff Passan said the deal is for 3 years and about $25 million. Multiple reporters confirmed the deal.

The Dodgers have been in the market for bullpen help since the start of the offseason, but this is somewhat surprising. It is mainly surprising because Kelly isn’t actually an upgrade for the bullpen. Kelly, 30, is coming off a season in which he threw 65.2 innings with a 4.39 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, while striking out 23.9% of hitters and walking 11.2%. He has a career 3.87 ERA, 4.02 FIP, and 4.09 xFIP.

On the bright side, Kelly has a 2.49 ERA in 47 postseason innings and possess a fastball that reaches triple digits.

You may remember him as the Cardinals’ pitcher who broke Hanley Ramirez’s ribs in the 2013 NLCS. Or maybe you remember him as the pitcher who threw 6 scoreless innings against the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series. Kelly has definitely been a pain for the Dodgers so maybe they were just tired of facing him.

The Dodgers could also believe they found something to make him better as they’ve done with other pitchers. He has a high spin curveball so maybe they feel he should utilize it more. Nevertheless, on the surface it’s a confusing signing for the team.

Update:

Looking into the deal more, Kelly’s main problem is he throws his fastball 47.5% of the time. His fastball spin rate averaged 2251 rpm last season, which is not ideal. That basically means his fastball is flat and even with high velocity, major league hitters are going to square that up.

He only threw his curveball, his best pitch, 19% of the time. His curve had a spin rate of 3103 rpm which would be the 8th best in the league.

His 2nd best pitch, his changeup, was thrown 10% of the time. And his 3rd best pitch, his slider, accounted for 16% of his pitches.

He also has a sinker that he should drop, which he threw 8% of the time.

Look at this chart of hitter’s xwOBA vs each pitch and the amount he throws it: (xwOBA is a statcast metric for hitters. A simple way to explain it is it’s on base percentage that makes extra base hits worth more than singles and walks. It is also based off exit velocity, launch angle, and hit probabilities.)

Fastball Curveball Slider Changeup Sinker
.344 (47%) .242 (19%) .241 (16%) .213 (10%) .480 (8%)

If Kelly dropped his sinker and throws his off-speed pitches more, he could breakout. An ideal player for him to look at is Ryan Pressly of the Houston Astros. Pressly’s throws his high spin curveball and slider 55% of the time.

If Kelly isn’t willing to change, this deal makes no sense for the Dodgers. With a few simple changes, Kelly could become a really effective reliever. Andrew Friedman knows what he’s doing, so he likely has a plan to make Kelly into a better reliever. Let’s see if it plays out that way.

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