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2021 Dodgers in review: Joe Kelly

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The electric right-hander had an under-the-radar great season

MLB: Wildcard-St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles Dodgers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dodgers signed Joe Kelly three years ago, the expectation from the fans was through the roof. The perception of the former Cardinals and Red Sox pitcher was at an all-time high following his heroics in the 2018 postseason with Boston, which obviously had a huge impact on these very same Dodgers.

Here we are at the end of 2021, and you can’t help but feel a little let down by his tenure in Los Angeles. That’s despite the fact that outside of the production on the diamond, Kelly sort of became a symbol of that Dodgers-Astros rivalry following a 2020 game in Houston.

The thing is, Kelly was actually his best self in 2021. Yes, the postseason heroics didn’t come in the same level. We all know what happened in 2019, and despite the extended playoffs his impact in 2020 wasn’t that big outside of a save against the Padres during the shakiest days of Kenley Jansen. Kelly’s last image of 2021 is leaving Game 5 of the NLCS against the Braves with a biceps strain.

Ultimately what you should remember is that despite a late start to his season and an atrocious debut in Anaheim against the Angels that more or less screwed up his ERA for the year, Kelly had career highs in:

  • Strikeout rate: 27.5 percent
  • Strikeout-minus-walk rate: 19.2 percent
  • Opponents batting average: .172 (previous best was .200 in 2017)
  • FIP: 3.08
  • fWAR: 0.7 (as a reliever)

Kelly had a 2.86 ERA. if you remove that first game against the Angels, in which he gave up five hits and four earned runs, his ERA plummets to 2.08. It sounds silly to discredit a poor performance, but with it being his first game following offseason shoulder surgery and probably some rustiness involved, it seems warranted.

Kelly only pitched 44 innings, which also factors in. However, he’s never been much of a workhorse coming out of the pen, usually hovering in the 50s on each given season, averaging 54 innings from 2016-19 and topping out at 65⅔ in 2018.

In the end he wasn’t perfect, definitely limited and always with a little bit of fun, but Joe Kelly was probably better than he’ll get credit for with the Dodgers and who knows maybe there’s a chance he still returns.

2021 particulars

Age: 33

Stats: 2.86 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 44 IP, 50 K, 15 BB, O.7 fWAR, 0.7 bWAR

Salary: $8.5 million

Game of the year

Maybe it wasn’t quite 2018, but Kelly had his moments in the playoffs, including coming in for Scherzer in the wild card game with runners at first and second in a tie game at the top of the fifth inning. With two runners on base, Kelly retired both batters faced, including an inning-ending strikeout of Dylan Carlson.

Roster status

The Dodgers declined Kelly’s $12 million club option for 2022, instead paying him a $4 million buyout. Kelly is a free agent.