Picking up Shawn Kelley in a trade with the Yankees is just the latest indication that GM A.J. Preller and the Padres are redefining hyper-active as a new GM reshapes his roster with an aggressiveness not seen since ... I don’t know, since Alex Anthopoulos went to work in Toronto?
While this may not seem like a big deal or a matter of the Yankees avoiding arbitration to spend a few million elsewhere, Kelley settled in as a good setup reliever the last couple of years, posting a save-plus-hold clip of 87 percent (protecting a lead 27 of 31 times), usually working in traffic but allowing just 13 percent of inherited baserunners to score as a Yankee (10 of 76). That’s already pretty good in terms of results, but if there’s a reason to believe he could be something more than that now that he’s headed to Petco, it’s because of what he throws and the results he generates.
Kelley is a righty who can overpower people with low-90s heat and a slider that generates a lot of swings and misses (around 19 percent career, 22.5 percent last season) and fly-ball outs. One particularly interesting data point about him is that although he is a righty reliever who had to call NuYankee home the last two seasons, 10 of his last 11 home runs allowed over the last two years (and all five last year) were hit by right-handed hitters. So even while pitching in a park that amps up lefty power, Kelley didn’t make many mistakes against lefties. You have to give some of the credit for that to Joe Girardi’s usage pattern for Kelley, but the interesting thing is, Kelley wasn’t some situational righty being hidden from lefties -- he faced lefties almost 50 percent of the time last year. But he still showed excellent command working low and outside, accepting the risk that he’d walk a few guys while trying to set up that slider. So lefties, no cookies for you.
Meanwhile, righties, the guys who actually went yard against him five times last year, he struck out 28 percent of the time. The homers are a reflection of the risk he’ll take in the strike zone against right-handed hitters. And now Kelley is headed to San Diego’s Petco Park, one of the hardest places in baseball for right-handed people to hit home runs, with a BIS right-handed HR index of 76; only San Francisco and Pittsburgh have been tougher over the last three years. Those risks seem that much less likely to hurt him at home. While pitching in the NL West means Kelley also will be pitching in homer havens like Coors Field, Chase Field and Dodger Stadium, Bud Black is every bit as smart about his bullpen usage as Joe Girardi.
Which is my long way of saying that I really like this move for the Padres, more than just any random reliever pickup. Nick Vincent, Dale Thayer and lefty Alex Torres all did an excellent job of stranding inherited runners last year while setting up first Huston Street and later Joaquin Benoit. Adding Kelley to that already strong, deep relief crew will help them get enough bullpen innings to compensate for a rotation that has to go toe-to-toe with the Dodgers and Giants if the Padres are going to contend. Because contention in San Diego? In 2015, that’s happening.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.