I've wanted to write about Ty Kelly's season for a while. When the Mariners acquired him for Eric Thames, he seemed like more organizational filler -- a man without a position, a guy who could hit in the minors but didn't translate to the bigs because of defensive misgivings. Every organization had players like Ty Kelly, but still -- his plate patience was excellent, and I'm forever tantalized by players who exhibit tremendous discipline.
The Mariners immediately placed Kelly in AAA after acquiring him from the Orioles, where he had spent the entire season in AA. Kelly posted an excellent .320/.456/.406 line over 54 games, playing primarily second base after the Mariners called up Tacoma's entire middle infield. All reports indicate that Kelly isn't particularly good at any position, but it's his bat that is turning heads.
This morning, Logan and I were discussing Kelly's season, and Logan said "he never swings." I was aware of his prodigious walk rate -- his 20.2 BB% in Tacoma was higher than the one Joey Votto posted this season (18.6%) or in any season -- but I hadn't taken a truly deep look into how he did it.
Logan's right: Kelly doesn't swing. When he does, it's at strikes. Not balls. Ever.
Swing % data is unavailable for Kelly for his time spent in the Orioles organization, but his Minor League Central page paints a picture of the type of hitter he was for the Rainiers. It's astounding.
|Ty Kelly, AAA||PCL Average||MLB leaders|
|O-Swing % (Percentage of balls swung at outside the strike zone)||2.8%||9.7%||Joey Votto, 20.0%|
|Z-Swing % (Percentage of balls swung at inside the strike zone)||54.9%||71.1%||Martin Prado, 52.2%|
|Swing %||30.8%||45.3%||Matt Carpenter, 37.3%|
Firstly, there's something a little wonky going on with the way Minor League Splits measures O-Swing%. The PCL average isn't twice as disciplined as Joey Votto. Still, it's possible Kelly swings at a fifth of the pitches outside the zone that the rest of the league does, even though it clearly isn't 2.8%. If his walk rate is better than Votto's, it isn't a stretch to assume his O-Swing% is on a similar level.
The second thing that leaps out is his refusal to swing at anything - Kelly swung 30.8% of the time, which is less than anybody in the majors swung by a significant margin. Even though the O-Swing% levels are weird, the Z-Swing% and Swing% league averages are close to MLB averages, so they seem to be fine. Kelly doesn't even particularly like swinging at balls in the zone, offering at just over half of them.
All of this would be soured if Kelly was a poor contact hitter when he did decide to swing, but he isn't. While Kelly strikes out a fair amount (16.3%), his contact rate is 87.7% (PCL average is 78.1%). Even though Kelly struck out 41 times, he walked 51. A good amount of Kelly's strikeouts were looking, too - Kelly watched 276 strikes go by, and swung and missed at 203. Kelly seems to know what he's doing -- even with all of the time he's spent with a bat on his shoulder, Kelly hit .320 in Tacoma (.298 for 2013 combined) and hit .327 across multiple levels of the minors in 2012.
Despite all of these crazy results, Kelly's 20.2 BB% should be taken with a grain of salt. He'd never walked that much before in his career, and even though his BB% was also excellent in other years, he probably isn't going to replicate that.
Kelly is without question a sleeper prospect worth keeping an eye on. Despite his jaw-dropping selectivity, there are still plenty of obstacles for him to overcome. He doesn't have much power (.086 ISO), he doesn't have a position, and he's already 25. Penciling Kelly into a spot other than bench bat doesn't make much sense at this point, but if he keeps this up, he may force his way onto the roster. It's going to be fascinating to see how his patience translates to better pitching.