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Know Your 40: Shawn Kelley

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The new reliever pitched decently in Seattle, but how will he fare in more hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium?

Yankee Stadium's not quite Safeco Field, but Kelley could contribute anyway.
Yankee Stadium's not quite Safeco Field, but Kelley could contribute anyway.
Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

Name: Shawn Kelley

Position: Reliever (RHP)
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 28 (born 4/26/1984)
Height: 6’2" Weight: 220 lbs.
Remaining Contract: One year, $935,000 (Under team control through 2015)
2012 statistics: (MLB) 47 games, 44.1 IP, 3.25 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 8.7 H/9, 3.0 BB/9, 9.1 K/9, 85 ERA-, 91 FIP-
(AAA) 14 games, 20.0 IP, 0.90 ERA, 1.30 FIP, 4.0 H/9, 1.8 BB/9, 11.2 K/9

The New York Yankees acquired Kelley in a February 13th trade with the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Double-A outfielder Abe Almonte. While Almonte showed signs of a decent player with good speed and defense in Trenton, he was not really a prospect and it was a case of the Yankees seeking to acquire a player who had more of a chance to help them. With Almonte fairly far back on the depth chart, it is hard to really get upset about this deal, especially since Kelley could strengthen the big-league bullpen.

It was not the easiest road to the majors for Kelley, who was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2003 while a freshman at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. He recovered to pitch well at Austin Peay, and the Mariners drafted him in the 13th round of the '07 MLB Draft. Kelley quickly ascended to the majors, moving up three levels in two years before making the Mariners out of Double-A in Spring Training '09. He was only average in his first season and a half, but unfortunately, he started having pain in his right elbow again. Kelley went under the knife again in the middle of the 2010 season, keeping him away from the Mariners for the rest of the season and most of '11. Strangely, his ligament was not totally torn off, so the doctors only had to reattach the ligament in an unprecedented "partial" Tommy John surgery. (Shawn Kelley surgery?)

Kelley spent some time in '12 at Triple-A Tacoma, but he mostly stayed in Seattle. It was his best overall season to date, as he bested his '09 numbers in nearly every category. Kelley altered his rookie season strategy of using 91-94 mph fastballs twice as much as his low-80s slider, and instead threw sliders almost exactly as often as he threw fastballs (50.8% fastballs, 47.9% sliders--the minuscule remaining percentage was an ineffective changeup). The slider served as a nice "put away" pitch, as 72% of his strikeouts came via the slider--batters chased 39% of his sliders out of the strike zone. You can find it on display at the end of this video, wherein he induced chases from mashers Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Mark Reynolds, a trio that combined for 88 homers last year.

Some cause for concern lies in Kelley's high fly-ball rate; over half of all batted balls in play last year against him were fly balls. That was not a fluke either, as his career fly-ball rate is 53.7%. While that's just fine and dandy for a pitcher who played half his games at ESPN's most pitcher-friendly park in the majors, Kelley will now theoretically be doing most of that pitching at Yankee Stadium. A career 1.34 HR/9 rate does not bode well for how Kelley might pitch against lefties with the short porch in right field looming, but one factor going in his favor is that he has never had a huge problem with platoon splits like righty 'pen competitor Cody Eppley. In his four-year career, righties have hit .255/.297/.479 against Kelley, while lefties have batted .241/.323/.327. Curiously, righties actually seem to hit him harder, especially in slugging percentage.

If the last 25-man roster spot comes down to Eppley vs. Kelley, it will be a matchup of a slightly-more complete pitcher against one who simply cannot face opposite-handed hitters. Even though Kelley is not quite as good against righties as Eppley, I know which one I would take. That being said, it is certainly possible that neither makes the big-league roster. Spring Training usually helps determine the final spots on the roster, and Kelley will certainly be in the running. Even if he does not make it, he will likely be one of the first arms up from Triple-A Scranton in case of injury or ineffectiveness.