Right-hander Joe Kelly is one of the game’s biggest arms, but has failed to turn his velocity into results. Could the Chicago Cubs turn him into something?
Aside from hard-throwing closer Brandon Morrow, who represents a big question mark already, the Chicago Cubs don’t have many in-your-face, blow it past you relievers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – but having those arms are hardly an issue come crunch time.
The only other shutdown reliever in tow for 2019? Pedro Strop, who the Cubs will undoubtedly retain via the team option on his two-year deal that concluded at the end of the season. Giving Strop some reinforcements could go a long way in shoring up the bullpen.
We all know the front office’s history of looking for fringe arms who haven’t quite put things together at the big league level. The latest example, of course, comes in the form of Tyler Chatwood. But the team has had successes, as well. Guys like Jesse Chavez, Brian Duensing, Jake Arrieta and, even Cole Hamels, all seemed on the edge of the cliff before joining the Cubs.
The next guy Chicago could go after? Boston Red Sox reliever and former St. Louis Cardinals third-rounder Joe Kelly.
All kinds of unrealized potential
Heading into 2018, the right-hander seemed like he was poised to break out as a legitimate late-inning arm.
He had compiled a 2.79 ERA the year prior, pitching to a 1.190 WHIP across 58 innings of work. There was much to be desired in both his strikeout (8.1 K/9) and walk (4.2 BB/9) rates, but the stuff was clearly there.
This season, according to Fangraphs, Kelly averaged north of 98 MPH on his four-seam fastball. But that didn’t translate into anything overly special on the mound. He put up a 4.39 ERA (but a much sightlier 3.57 FIP – nearly in-line with his 3.49 mark from the year prior).
He upped his strikeout rate (from 8.1 to 9.3 per nine) and kept the ball in the yard – allowing just half a home run per nine innings pitched. In short, there are reasons to be optimistic, especially if you can put someone like Kelly under the tutelage of pitching guru Jim Hickey.
Given he failed to follow up an impressive 2017 campaign with another such showing this time around, Kelly likely won’t break the bank wherever he goes this winter. If the Cubs can bring him into the fold, he represents a high-risk, high-upside reclamation project of sorts that could pay big dividends.