2013 Statistics: 57 games, 53.1 innings, 4-2 record, 4.39 ERA, 93 ERA+, 7.9 H/9, 1.4 HR/9, 3.9 BB/9, 12.0 K/9
2014 Contract Status: Arbitration eligible
The Seattle Mariners drafted Shawn Kelley with their thirteenth round selection in the 2007 draft, and he moved quickly through their system. He made 12 minor league appearances in 2007 and 49 more in 2008 before skipping Triple-A to open the 2009 season in the Mariners bullpen. In 120 games and 128 innings from 2009-12, he pitched to a 3.52 ERA (115 ERA+), with 2.7 BB/9, 8.6 K/9 and 1.3 HR/9. The Yankees acquired him for Abraham Almonte last February, after the Mariners designated him for assignment. He's a two-time Tommy John surgery survivor who throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider. He arrived in the Bronx with a reputation for being a homer prone / fly ball / strike out pitcher.
Kelley had a rough first month in pinstripes. In his first nine games and 10.1 innings, he allowed 10 runs on 13 hits, including four home runs. While the 8.71 ERA was ugly, it was only 10 innings, and he did strike out 15. From May 5 through the end of August, Kelley was fantastic. In 42 games covering 39.2 innings, he was 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA. He only allowed two home runs (0.45 HR/9) while striking out 51 (11.6 K/9) and walking 17 (3.9 BB/9). Joe Girardi became more comfortable with him as the summer went on and began using him in higher leverage situations. As Joba Chamberlain imploded and everyone else seemed to get hurt, he essentially became the non-David Robertson seventh and eighth inning guy.
He had a couple fantastic games along the way. On May 10 in Kansas City, he pitched 2.1 perfect innings, striking out six of the seven men he faced. He pitched two perfect innings in Boston on July 21, striking out five of the 6 hitters he faced. In fact, that game concluded a 17-appearance stretch that began on June 3. He did not allow a run in 15 of those 17 games, allowing 3 runs (1 earned) in 15.2 innings, striking out 20 and holding opposing hitters to a .148 average.
The injury bug that decimated the team got him in September, as he battled triceps inflammation. His six September appearances totaled just 3.1 innings, in which he allowed six runs and two home runs. Fatigue may also have been a factor in September. Despite making just three appearances in the final three weeks, he easily set career highs in games and innings.
Despite the poor bookend months that ruined his ERA, I have to call Kelley's 2013 season a success. Going into the season, he was expected to provide bullpen depth, probably while riding the Scranton-Wilkes Barre shuttle. Instead, he had four dominant months and was tenth among American League pitchers who made at least 30 appearances with his 12.0 K/9. The league hit .233/.308/.421 against him.
Kelley made $935,000 in his second year of arbitration eligibility, so he figures to earn around $1.2 million in 2014. His fly ball tendencies, and the associated home run rate, probably make him a little too volatile to be the primary set-up man. He'll probably start the 2014 season as the second option there, or the primary seventh inning man. He turns 30 in April, so he's not exactly young, but he's a much better bet over the next two years than just about any free agent reliever they could sign to fill that role.
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