Reliever Poised to Leap Forward: Shawn Kelley
With the retirement of Mariano Rivera, and the eighth-inning setup man David Robertson moving into the pressured role as heir to the greatest closer of all-time, someone will need to move into the eighth-inning setup role. While the role could be open to anyone who will step up their game and grab the proverbial brass ring, right-hander Shawn Kelley could be a good fit of the players currently on the New York Yankees roster.
Shawn Kelley, 29, was acquired by the Yankees from the Seattle Mariners for minor league outfielder Abraham Almonte. He spent four years with the Seattle Mariners before finding his way to New York. He made his way onto the Opening Day roster with his strong strikeout numbers and his ability to pitch in more than one inning per appearance.
Shawn Kelley is a two-pitch pitcher. He features a four-seam fastball that averages around 92 MPH and a sharp-biting slider that he usually turns to as the strikeout pitch.
In the 2013 season, Kelley appeared in 57 games and went multiple innings in 19 of those appearances. He struck out 71 batters in 53.1 innings to a 12.0 K/9 average. This was good enough to be best on the Yankees; setup man David Robertson had the next highest at 10.4.
There are some signs of concern that were evident in Kelley’s game during the 2013 season. He struggled early in the season with the home run and would finish with a home run per every nine innings pitched. A downside to a strikeout pitcher like Kelley is that sometimes they walk batters as well. Kelley walked three batters for every nine innings pitched. Regarding his health, towards the beginning of September, Kelley missed seven games with some triceps inflammation. At the time of his injury, Kelley had accumulated 50 innings pitched in the season; his major league-high in his five-year career was 46. As he continues to improve and likely spends more time in the majors, his inning total should rise and he should be more prepared for a heavier workload.
While he could potentially be a good fit to setup Robertson, there is another role that he could turn out to be more important in. When Shawn Kelley inherited runners, the Kentucky native was one of the best at putting out the fires of his fellow pitchers. Kelley inherited 40 baserunners in the 2013 season, he allowed four to score. Only 10% of the inherited runners scored when Kelley took over the reins of the game. For comparisons, the American League average is 30%. Shawn Kelley ranks second in the league in inherited runners scoring percentage. His career average regarding inherited runners is 37% so time will tell if this outstanding percentage is steps in the right direction or just a rare exceptional season in difficult situations. If Kelley has figured something out when it comes to stopping fires; that is a very valuable commodity to have in a multitude of situations.
Whether it occurs in the eighth inning or the fifth inning, Shawn Kelley’s value to the Yankees is strong if he can overcome the increasing workload that comes with being a major league pitcher. Much like David Robertson should not attempt to be Mariano Rivera, Shawn Kelley should not attempt to be David Robertson. By no means is David Robertson in the eighth inning the equivalent to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, but they are some big shoes to fill. Kelley can do the job; he just needs to do it his way.