Shawn Kelley is another Mariners‘ reliever that is up for arbitration this off-season. The right-handed reliever signed for 600,000 dollars to avoid arbitration in January. Kelley, who is 28 years old, is projected to get 900,000 dollars in arbitration this year.
Kelley comes with somewhat of a scary injury history. He had Tommy John Surgery in college, and then in 2010 he aggravated the injury, causing him to have surgery, go on the 60 day DL and miss over a season’s worth of games. Since the injury, he has turned into a 2 pitch pitcher (dropping the changeup and curveball), relying on just the fastball and slider. It worked well for him in 2012, as he had a 91 FIP -, slightly better than a league average reliever.
Kelley has an okay but below average fastball that averaged 92.2 MPH this year. That velocity puts him right below fellow Mariner Charlie Furbush (who is left-handed) and former Mariner David Aardsma (who threw just 13 fastballs this year as he was coming back from an injury). Velocity wise, his slider is about the same as the sliders of Pedro Strop (who has electric stuff and had a great season) and Rafael Dolis (who has been terrible in the big leagues despite a big time fastball).
In movement, Kelley’s slider is similar horizontally to Stephen Pryor’s and Robert Parnell’s (both really hard throwers with decent but still a work in progress sliders). Vertically, it moves like Wade Davis’ (whose was frankly scary good this year) and Rafael Betancourt (a very good reliever for the Colorado Rockies). Both of his pitches this year were rated as positive according to run values, with the slider rated as the better pitch. The majority of his strikeouts come on his slider and opponents had just a 73 wRC + on it. 73 wRC + was what Jemile Weeks had in 2012, and he was sent down to AAA for it. His fastball was below average, as you would expect with his velocity, with a 111 wRC + (which is equal to Neil Walker’s 2012 season).
It is always important to remember that Kelley’s 2012 is small sample size, so it probably isn’t the wisest thing to put a ton of stock in his numbers (I am ignoring all of Kelley’s pre-2012 numbers because it is pretty clear that the injury has changed him as a pitcher). Kelley had some strange platoon splits this year. He was slightly more effective against righties than against lefties, which is to be expected. However, he gave up more power (a high slugging percentage) to righties. The problem he had against lefties was more walks (a higher OBP). So as you would expect, his K/BB and DIPs were much better against righties. In Tacoma (where he was just dominant overall), he had a similar issue, as his GB% was slightly better against lefties, but his BB% was better against righties.
It would seem that these statistics would point to the fact that while he can get lefties out, he is either not able to fool them and/or is overly cautious with them. The heat maps seem to suggest that he is intent on keeping the ball away against left-handers, while he will throw the ball all in the zone against righties. It would seem (without being in Kelley’s head) that he is more worried about throwing strikes against righties, while against lefties, he is much more cautious, willing to give up a walk over a home run. The fact that he throws more pitches per plate appearance against lefties than righties supports this theory as well. He threw strikes just 57.1 % of the time against lefties in the Majors this year, while he threw strikes 67.4% of the time against righties. He is unable to get chases on these pitches out of the zone against lefties as well, as his O-Swing % was 10% lower against lefties. This is why he had so many walks against them.
So obviously he is not a guy you can give the ball to for an inning or two in a high leverage situation. He needs to face mainly righties so he can continue to work around the lefties (like he normally does) he does have to face. Kelley is not a ground-ball guy, instead relying on strikeouts, something he got at a 23.7% (which isn’t an exceptionally high rate, but is ironically .01 % above K-Rod) clip in 2012. His .9061 xOPS off the bat is not pretty, and one wonders if the moved in fences at Safeco Field will hurt him. However, the average batted ball distance off of him was 259.675 this year, which is actually not bad. A 12.5 IFFB% certainly helps explain part of it (as we saw in the Oliver Perez article, a high infield fly-ball rate has to be considered when looking at xOPS).
Kelley’s xFIP – was 102, for what it is worth, which would put him as a well below average reliever (Steve Delabar had a 103 FIP – because of a large home run rate, with a 74 xFIP -. Tony Watson of the Pirates had a 102 xFIP – this year. Heath Bell’s disastrous year yielded a 103 xFIP -). Overall, his xOPS was a solid .69877 (thanks to the K/BB). That is just above (or worse) the average MLB reliever, who had a .696 OPS. So he pitched like a roughly average reliever (I trust xOPS much more than I trust xFIP) in 44.1 innings this year. But is there reason to think that he can continue to do so? That is, of course, the main question when evaluating players. It is not what they have done, it is what they can and will do.
I can’t really see a reason for non-tendering Shawn Kelley unless the Mariners really feel the need for an open 40 man spot. If they really need that, they can non tender Josh Kinney or release Chone Figgins (not to mention the fact that roster spots will open with Kawasaki, Millwood, Iwakuma, Perez, and most likely Olivo all at least coming off the roster temporarily. Luis Jimenez should also be removed). If the money looks like it is going to be under 1 million dollars, then I think the injury history is basically a non sequitor, as the money isn’t big enough for it to be worth worrying about. In fact, to be able to keep a reliever who has shown that he can be successful in the Majors for about 1/80th of the team’s 2012 payroll seems like a no brainer.
It is somewhat hard to gauge the worth of an average reliever (the problem could be extended to bench players as well). Usually, the average starter or starting position player is said to be worth about 2 WAR, which FanGraphs says is worth 8.8 million dollars. However, what is an average reliever worth? In 2012, all of the relievers in baseball had a combined 91 ERA – and 95 FIP -. Out of qualified relievers, 2 of them, Chris Perez and Jose Valverde, had an ERA – of 91. FanGraphs pegged them as worth 3.7-3.8 million dollars. The only reliever with a 95 FIP – was Heath Bell, who was worth 2 million dollars according to FanGraphs (and was paid quite a bit more). This isn’t the most complete method (especially if you don’t like FanGraphs’ WAR dollars), but it does give us some kind of idea as to what an average reliever might be worth. Kelley is probably slightly below average, but projects to get much less than 2-3.8 million dollars. Even with the depth the Mariners have with right-handed relievers, it makes no sense not to tender Kelley a contract, even if the plan is just to trade him. I think the best plan may be to let him break camp with the Mariners, and if he has a good first half and is healthy, he may have some trade value at the deadline for teams that need a reliever. He has also used just two option years, so he will have an option this year. So he is someone the Mariners can send up and down again next year if they need to.
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Favorite general sports moment: The Texas versus USC college football national championship comes to mind, as does Gary Matthews Jr. catch on July 1st 2006.
Favorite Seattle Sports Moment: King Felix throwing a perfect game against the Rays
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