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Shawn Kelley's Stock Is Rising

Another weekend taken off, another missed Kirby Arnold article about Shawn Kelley. I'd endeavor for a third, but the first two have been good, and given what just happened to Cliff Lee, I'd rather not push my luck. You should never push your luck.

Jeff: That was a fun weekend.
Ms. Jeff: I agree with you!
Jeff: Just give me a few minutes to catch up on news.
Arnold: M's Kelley Donates Eyes To Science

Writes Arnold (who - let's face it - deserves more attention than he gets):

Kelley, primarily a fastball-slider pitcher last year when he rarely pitched more than one inning at a time, has gone back to the changeup he threw in college at Austin Peay.
"It’s not necessarily a new pitch to me, but I’ve kind of re-found the confidence I had with it back in college," Kelley said. "I’ve got as much if not more confidence in it as any of my other pitches."
"Righties, lefties, it didn’t matter. And it felt great. I got a lot of swings and misses and I’m going to keep using it."

Shawn Kelley, you might remember, was the very definition of a fastball/slider guy last season, throwing all of 11 changeups all year long. Like the overwhelming majority of short-stint relievers, Kelley didn't feel it necessary to feature a third pitch, as the main two could get him far enough on their own. And that much is true - Kelley struck out five batters for every one batter he walked, a ratio which is a wee bit terrific.

But, coming into the spring, there was cause for a little concern. For one thing, Kelley's in line to pick up multi-inning appearances. Longer appearances increase the need for a third pitch, because a pitcher is facing an increased number of repeat matchups against the same hitters, and hitters tend to be good at pattern recognition.

And for another, while the fastball/slider combo allowed Kelley to dominate lefties a year ago, there's reason to believe his degree of success was a fluke. Kelley held lefties to a .555 OPS, with three unintentional walks and 25 strikeouts. That's an 8.3 K/BB, against a far more reasonable minor league K/BB against lefties of 2.9. Both were put up over small samples, so Kelley's true talent likely lied somewhere in the middle, but the fact remains that Kelley was a fastball/slider righty, and fastball/slider righties tend to struggle a bit against lefties. While Kelley's slider acts kind of like a curve, he was throwing 76% fastballs to lefties, and his fastball isn't that special.

So what has Kelley done? He's brought back the changeup he used in college through 2007. We haven't seen it, and we don't have any data on it, but for Kelley to say he has at least as much confidence in it as he does in his other two's one thing for a pitcher to say he's trying something out in spring training, but it's quite another for a pitcher to say he's made an adjustment he believes in, that he's ready to take something into the season. Shawn Kelley, in 2009, was a fastball/slider righty. Shawn Kelley, in 2010, appears to be a guy with three pitches.

It might not work out. I have no idea. I'm just going off of an article, here. But Kelley's thrown this pitch before and thinks rather highly of it, which makes me optimistic. What could a changeup do for Shawn Kelley? It could help him sustain his success against lefties, it could help him sustain his success over longer outings, it could keep him healthier, and it could help him keep the ball on the ground a little more than he did a year ago when he allowed 52% fly balls. You'll notice that all of these things are good.

If everything goes according to plan, Shawn Kelley's going to get some lengthy outings in relief this year. People have thrown around names like Ramiro Mendoza and Steve Karsay, and those are the obvious comparisons in terms of potential role. You'll remember that both Mendoza and Karsay would frequently face ten or more batters in any single appearance. That could end up being Kelley's job, and he's prepared to approach it with a full repertoire.

That's exciting. Shawn Kelley's a good pitcher, and the Mariners could end up with one heck of a bullpen. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that adding a third pitch and getting stretched out could make Kelley a not-too-distant option should the rotation find itself in need.