Game 1 — And the NLCS? — Hinges On Joe Kelly

kelly_joeOver at ESPN yesterday, I did the NLCS preview, and my “key stat” was “76.5 percent,” which is how many times Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke combined to allow two runs or fewer this year. But as I noted, that’s not even telling the full story of how they’re pitching right now, because that includes Greinke’s sometimes-rough starts when he returned from that broken collarbone. Over their last 24 starts, including playoffs, the duo has allowed two or fewer earned runs… 23 times.

That puts the Cardinals at a bit of a disadvantage, especially with St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright unavailable until Game 3, and rookie sensation Michael Wacha scheduled for Game 2. So for tonight’s Game 1, the Cardinals had to choose between Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly to battle Greinke. I might have gone Miller, and some Cardinals fans agreed. Instead, the team chose Kelly.

At this point, you might be asking… who? Kelly is a 25-year-old California native who made his debut for the Cardinals last year, splitting his time so far between the rotation and the bullpen. He didn’t win a rotation job out of camp and made only one start this year before July, at one point appearing in 10 consecutive losses out of the bullpen (a run which can’t be entirely attributed to him, of course.) In a stretch of 14 starts after that, he limited opponents to just a 2.32 ERA.

So Kelly can keep runs off the board, but while he’s your typical four-pitch starter (fastball / curve / slider / change) and can touch the mid-90s, he’s like something out of the 1950s otherwise. In 124 innings this year, he struck out only 5.7 per nine. Of the 128 pitchers who threw at least 120 innings, Kelly’s K/9 was 14th from the bottom, and the guys worse than him aren’t pretty. There’s Bartolo Colon, sure, but there’s also Joe Saunders and Dylan Axelrod and Scott Diamond.

As you’d expect, Kelly gets by on grounders (51.4% career) and limiting homers (just five in 15 starts), but not so much by impeccable control — just a 46/34 K/BB as a starter. He’s been successful, obviously, just not in the way you’d expect.

When that’s the kind of pitcher who gets a Game 1 start, there’s a lot of discussion about it, ranging from the near-saccharine

Kelly’s understanding of the team concept — taking his lumps and working hard at whatever role the club asked of him — and his knack for pouncing on the opportunity to shine once it was presented to him embodies what this Cardinals team has done in reaching the postseason and advancing to a third consecutive NLCS.

“Joe’s earned this,” Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny said on Thursday’s workout day at Busch Stadium. “He started off this season, and I’ve said it many times, he showed us so much and earned our respect coming out of Spring Training in a fight for that fifth spot. Nothing that he did not do, but it worked out where he was going to be working out of the ‘pen and getting very few opportunities.

“But when he did get the opportunities, he made the most of them and continued to come in here regardless of what his role was and tried to figure out how to help our team win.”

…to the terrified analytic Cardinals fan:

Kelly induces swinging strikes at a below average rate. Kelly strikes out opposing batters at a below average rate. Kelly walks opposing batters at an above average rate. Yet somehow he has managed to strand opposing runners at a rate nearly ten percentage points higher than average and his ERA is 1.17 below average. The last two are inextricably intertwined. Neither are likely to continue. The question is not if Kelly can keep up his current levels of run suppression but for much longer can it continue. Three innings? Five? Seven? Twenty?

All of this is why I don’t understand why St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny elected to start Joe Kelly in NLCS Game 1. On Thursday, Matheny said Kelly “earned” the spot by making the most out of his opportunities. While the clichés of coachspeak are often nothing more than bull roar, Matheny’s claims that Kelly’s lucky run to date “earned” him a start in NLCS Game 1 rings particularly hollow, for the big leagues are not a luckocracy.

All of which makes Kelly so difficult to predict, and makes Game 1 all the more important. The Dodgers should beat up on a guy who doesn’t miss bats and has a 2.71 BABIP as a starter, but they should have beaten up on Freddy Garcia, too, and that didn’t really happen. Nonetheless, Kelly’s performance is so crucial here for both teams. If the Dodgers win, they’ve broken home field advantage and put the Cardinals in a hole headed into a Kershaw start. If they can’t solve Kelly, then they’ve wasted one of their four “ace” starts on a team where suddenly no one has any confidence in the third and fourth starters.

The Dodgers have the pitching advantage in Game 1, and in probably all four games that Kershaw and Greinke pitch. But I’ll tell you this — if they want to win, they need to do it in six, because I don’t think any of us want to see a Game 7 in St. Louis with the great Wainwright facing Hyun-jin Ryu or Ricky Nolasco. That’s not going to end well.

259 comments
Paulstralia
Paulstralia

How does someone have a 2.71 BABIP? 

capnsparrow
capnsparrow

Ill be back when sanity returns Paco as much as I love the kid has hit the wall. Volquez is to me the better choice for this set. I believe Capuano is hurt or he would still be there

Purple Drank
Purple Drank

Guys maybe Capuano passed away from old age last night. Still a dead Capuano is probably better than Volquez. Makes no sense.

BlueMarvin
BlueMarvin

I'll add only this about Ned.  I can't IMAGINE what it would have been like working for McCourt.  I'm not just saying this in hindsight, I was really displeased with his ownership from the very start.  I've known people like him, and they are miserable people to be around, even worse when they have power over you ... like when they employ you.  Ned was trying to maintain the Dodgers as a powerhouse, not a scrappy 'clever' small market club like the A's, and he was doing it with an owner who was, hands down, the worst owner in MLB.  This is why I cut Ned a LOT of slack for those years, and why I think how he performs NOW is more indicative of his true abilities.  I admit trades aren't my strong point, so I'm open to the very real possibility that I give the guy too much credit.

Purple Drank
Purple Drank

Expecting a "Hairston over Dre" tweet anytime now...

DodgerBytes
DodgerBytes

 Ned Colletti Success List:

League, A. Jones, Pierre, Schmidt, C.Santana.

DodgersFan
DodgersFan

marmol over paco makes no sense to me.

Cold Pumpkin (loves "willow tree")
Cold Pumpkin (loves "willow tree")

I just hope Marmol could pitch strike. I do not have much faith in pitcher who have trouble in throwing strike, especially in post season.

efb
efb

Is mike writing about this right now? 

KMT59
KMT59

REPOST:

Ok those of you who want to sign the 6/22/2013 Mike Sciosica's Tragic Illness Game Ball (signed by our fearless leader himself) need to meet me in Reserve section 29 row EE seats 14 / 15 Monday or Reserve 29 row DD seats 1 / 2 Tuesday

If you are in Upper deck I need your section row and seat and time for me to come upstairs before the game

Will be able to meet outside the stadium on Tuesday before the game at a place to be determined close to the stadium

This ball will be presented to Mike (after all the reasonable amount of signatures can be collected) for all his hard work

http://i.imgur.com/W8m93z3.jpg

efb
efb

DOES SOMEONE HAVE A FUCKIN EXPLANATION YET? ARE WE OVERLY ANGRY SOMEONE PLEAAAASE

KMT59
KMT59

On the topic of thunderstorms / rain for Saturday, just looked at the charts...Any rain fall that may happen (not expecting much) will be complete 3-4 hours before game time. 

Weather for our home series no rain in forecast, Clear skies Monday becoming mild Santa Ana's on Tuesday with increased cloudiness Wednesday 

DINGERS!
DINGERS!

Ned you fucking ass. Now the only leftys are Kershaw, Ryu, and Howell.

Tonight's start just became REALLY fucking important.

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Marmol over Paco makes sense, at least in theory. Volquez over Cappy... Not so much.

Purple Drank
Purple Drank

I do think this is some hard evidence that our team doesn't fucking understand sabremetrics like they should.

efb
efb

maybe Ken made a mistake? 

capnsparrow
capnsparrow

Something we don't know about is going on with this

Lobo
Lobo

My confidence for this series just took a fairly serious blow

DodgersFan
DodgersFan

@BlueMarvin ned had barrels of money and still was awful. only now when our payroll is bigger than almost everyone are we a contender

Lobo
Lobo

@ JohnM That's the one that makes sense to me.  Paco is just plain gassed.  But Volquez over Cappy?  No fucking way.  Cap can go multiple innings and is a lefty AGAINST A TEAM THAT DOESN'T HIT LEFTIES.  Volquez can blow up at any team AND IS A RIGHTY FACING A TEAM THAT DESTROYS RIGHTY PITCHING

Lobo
Lobo

@efb I NEED REASSURANCE THAT IT'S ALL GONNA BE OK

DBrim
DBrim moderator

Also the thought of Marmol in a playoff game is fucking terrifying.

BIah
BIah

@Lobo Marmol has actually been decent lately.  Not unreasonable to take him over a slumping Paco.

Volquez over Cappy...yeah

Lobo
Lobo

@Mike Petriello DAFUQ?????????????

WHY NO CAPUANO????  CARDS SUCK AGAINST LEFTIES!!!!!!

BlueMarvin
BlueMarvin

@ JohnM @BlueMarvin Money helps.  But so does scouting.  McJoke gutted scouting before, and gutted our international presence.

BIah
BIah

@Lobo Kersh just gonna have to CGSO them