Keep those boxing gloves laced up, because the Joe Kelly Fight Club is back, baby. Kelly cemented himself as a Dodgers hero during his first stint with the team from 2019 to 2021, and, after re-joining in July, he seemed to pick up right where he left off—especially in the hearts of fans.
Kelly returned to the team in July alongside fellow Chicago White Sox teammate Lance Lynn in exchange for Trayce Thompson, Nick Nastrini, and Jordan Leasure. At the time, the reliever had a 32-percent strikeout rate, the highest of his career, and a 4.97 ERA.
He’d also already done two stints on the injured list (for a right groin strain and right elbow inflammation), a trend that would unfortunately continue in L.A.: Kelly was again on the injured list for forearm inflammation in August, missing a month of play as a result.
Despite the injuries, though, Kelly showed that he was worth the second contract. He had a strong September, approaching a 50% strikeout rate by knocking out 12 of 26 batters faced, and played a pivotal role in the Dodgers’ ill-fated postseason run by contributing to an effective bullpen team—one of the only pieces of the Dodgers puzzle that seemed to hold strong this fall.
“We know Joe really well, and the stuff has been arguably the best it’s ever been; it’s elite,” general manager Brandon Gomes said shortly after trading for Kelly. “His velocity is the highest it’s ever been. He’s added the slider. His four-seamer is playing as well as it ever has. And we love the [will to] compete.”
The numbers show that to be true: His fastball averaged 99 MPH, the best of his career and an incredibly rare feat for pitchers in their mid-30s. Opposing batters hit just .196/.292/.331 against Kelly this year and were only 3-for-34 (all singles, .088/.225/.088) after he returned to L.A.
Stats with the Dodgers: 1-0, 1.74 ERA, 10.1 IP, 19 K, 6 BB, 0.3 bWAR, 0.3 fWAR; 2.93 xERA (full season)
Game of the Year
On October 9, Kelly showed why he was worth a return ticket. He and fellow bullpen pitchers Brusdar Graterol, Ryan Brasier, and Evan Phillips gave up one run and four hits with nine strikeouts in 7 1⁄3 innings after Bobby Miller was forced to make an early exit in Game 2 of the NLDS. Although the Dodgers ultimately lost the game, Kelly’s three strikeouts and scoreless 1 2⁄3 innings ensured that the team’s offense would still have all the support they needed to try for a win.
The Dodgers declined Joe Kelly’s 2024 club option, making him a free agent. Although he briefly considered retiring, it appears that Kelly will be back on the Dodgers for another year after all, pending a physical.