Joe Kelly (kellyjo05)

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Joseph William Kelly Jr.

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Biographical Information[edit]

Joe Kelly is a pitcher who made his major league debut in 2012. He is the son of Joe Kelly [1], a starting NFL linebacker for 7 years, and is also a distant relative of gangster "Machine Gun" Kelly.

Kelly was excellent as a freshman, going 3-1 with 6 saves and a 1.32 ERA for UC Riverside. Collegiate Baseball named him a Freshman All-American. He also made first-team All-Big West Conference. He was one of three freshman pitchers picked for Team USA's roster for the 2007 Pan American Games. In the Games, he allowed two hits, two walks and two runs (one earned) in two innings but got the win against the host Brazilian national team. The USA won a Silver Medal. Kelly then gave up 3 runs in two innings in the 2007 World Port Tournament. For the summer, he was 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 outings for the US; he tied Jordy Mercer for third on Team USA in appearances.

Kelly had a sophomore slump big time in 2008. He went 2-1 with six saves but with a 9.35 ERA and a 1.96 WHIP for Riverside. In '09, Kelly saved 12 games but his record was otherwise unimpressive at 1-1, 5.65. He set the UCR record with 24 career saves. The St. Louis Cardinals still made him their third-round pick of the 2009 amateur draft. He was signed by scout Jeff Ishii and began his pro career that summer.

The Cards assigned the right-hander to the Batavia Muckdogs. In 16 games in 2009, he went 2-3 with a save and a 4.75 ERA, striking out 30 in 30 1/3 IP. After another so-so season with the Quad Cities River Bandits in 2010, when he went 6-8, 4.62, he broke through as a prospect in 2011. That year, he was a combined 11-6, 3.68 between the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals and AA Springfield Cardinals. In 2012, he was only 2-5, but with a solid 2.86 ERA in 12 starts with the AAA Memphis Redbirds when he got the call to the big leagues.

Kelly made his major league debut with the Cardinals on June 10, 2012, giving up 1 run in 5 innings in a start against the Cleveland Indians. He earned his first major league win on June 22nd, over the Kansas City Royals after the Cards staked him to a 4-0 league before he threw his first pitch. He pitched 6 innings, leaving the game with an 11-3 lead. On June 25th, he was used as a pinch-hitter with the bases loaded in the 10th inning of a game against the Miami Marlins; confusion over a double switch made the previous inning had forced Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to use his last available position player, and Kelly was his last option to pinch-hit for reliever Victor Marte. He made his manager proud by beating out an infield single, driving in a key run as the Cards held on for an 8-7 win. He ended his rookie season with a record of 5-7, 3.53 in 24 appearances, including 16 starts, pitching a total of 107 innings. he then made seven appearances in the postseason, all in relief, giving up 2 runs in 7 2/3 innings as the Cardinals lost to the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 NLCS after upsetting the Washington Nationals in the Division Series.

In 2013, Kelly pitched 37 times for the Cardinals, including 15 starts. He was outstanding in both roles - as a starter and as a long reliever - with a record of 10-5, 2.69. He pitched a total of 124 innings, striking out 79 batters. In the postseason, he was part of the cards' starting rotation, getting the nod over the more heralded Shelby Miller. He started Game 3 of the NLDS against the Pittsburgh Pirates and gave up 3 runs in 5 1/3 innings; in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he started Games 1 and 5. In the opener, he gave up 2 runs in 6 innings, and the Cardinals eventually won the game 3-2, but he was the loser in Game 5, 6-4, after giving up 4 runs to the Dodgers in 5 innings. In the 2013 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, he started Game 3 on October 26th at Busch Stadium and had a good performance, giving up 2 runs in 5 1/3 innings, as the Cardinals were able to pull out a 5-4 win, but then lost the next three contests and the Series before Joe could pitch again. Overall, he was 0-1, 4.15 in his four postseason start.

Kelly was expected to be a member of the Cardinals' starting rotation all season in 2014, but he was slowed down by injuries, missing all of May and June, and was limited to 7 starts, during which he went 2-2, 4.37. Making a bid to return to the World Series, the Cardinals engineered a rare trade with their Fall Classic opponents of the previous year, the Boston Red Sox, on July 31st, and Joe went to Boston alongside Allen Craig in return for veteran starter John Lackey and prospect Corey Littrell. It was clear that the Red Sox were looking at him as a pillar of their starting rotation for the future and he was very solid in his first start, against his former team on August 6th, as he gave up only a run on 3 hits in 7 innings but ended up with a no-decision. On August 12th, he became the first Red Sox pitcher to steal a base since Bill Landis back on September 8, 1969. He had reached base on a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt when he noticed that Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mat Latos was not paying him any attention; he took off for third and made it standing up. No major league pitcher had stolen third base since Ted Lilly in 2008, and for the Red Sox, one had to go back to 1959 when Tom Brewer had pulled the feat ! He had another strong start, with 2 runs allowed in 6 innings, but ended up with another no-decision. He ended up going 4-2, 4.11 in 10 starts for the Red Sox, giving him a combined record of 6-4, 4.20 in 17 starts.

The Red Sox were counting on Kelly to be a pillar of the starting rotation in 2015, but he started the year slowly. At the end of July, his record was only 2-6, with an ERA of 5.94, and he had spent a month on the disabled list the last week of June and the first three of July. One positive sign was that he was constantly being clocked among the leaders in the American League for fastball velocity among starting pitchers, a sign that even if the results were not good, his stuff was. He began a remarkable turnaround on August 1st, when he defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 11-7. He then won his next seven starts as well, and by September 9th, his record had improved to 10-6 and his ERA had dropped over a full run, to 4.70. The eight consecutive winning starts were the most by a Red Sox starter since recently enshrined Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez had won 9 straight in his superlative 1999 season. He finished the year at 10-6, 4.82 in 25 starts, with a career-high 134 1/3 innings and 110 strikeouts.

He began the 2016 season in the Red Sox's rotation. He got shelled in his first start, giving up 7 runs in 3 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 8th but escaped with a no-decision. He won his next start then on April 19th, he had to leave a game against the Tampa Bay Rays because of shoulder soreness after recording only 2 outs and making 23 pitches and was immediately placed on the disabled list. He returned on May 21st by giving up only one hit in 6 2/3 innings to record a win against the Cleveland Indians, but was then hit hard in his next two starts. On June 1st, he allowed 7 runs to the Baltimore Orioles without making it out of the 3rd inning and was sent down to the minors after the game. By then, the Red Sox were competing for first place in the AL East after a couple of tough seasons, and could not afford to gamble with Kelly's inconsistency when he took the mound every fifth day. He came back in September, now working as a reliever, and was a completely different pitcher. His command of his fastball was now outstanding, as he was making one scoreless appearance after another. He struck out 11 batters over 7 innings in his first 6 appearances, not giving up any runs. On September 25th, he pitched the final 2 2/3 innings of a 3-2 Boston win over the Tampa Bay Rays in 10 innings. In that game, Boston pitchers set a major league record by striking out 21 batters in the first 9 innings, and he recorded the last two of these in the 9th. He had earlier bailed the Sox out of serious trouble when he had induced pinch-hitter Nick Franklin to ground into an inning-ending double play with two men on in the 8th. The win gave him a record of 4-0 on the year and, in effect, he saved his own win as he struck out two more batters in pitching a scoreless 10th. he finished the season at 4-0, 5.18, but obviously his ERA was greatly inflated by his unsuccessful stint as a starter. He added three hitless and scoreless appearances in the Division Series as the Red Sox were swept by the Cleveland Indians.

Kelly was a key member of the Sox's bullpen in 2017 as he picked up 13 holds as the main set-up man for closer Craig Kimbrel. He pitched 45 times, all in relief, going 4-1 with an ERA of 2.79. In 58 innings, he struck out 52 batters. He made a couple more scoreless appearances in Boston's loss to the Houston Astros in the ALDS, totaling 2 2/3 innings. He was credited with his team's only win in the series, in Game 3 on October 8th when he was uncharacteristically brought into the game in the 2nd inning to replace a struggling Doug Fister, who had put Boston in an early 3-0 hole that had them on the verge of elimination. He came in with two men on but managed to strand both inherited runners as he recorded the final two outs of the frame, then followed that with a scoreless 3rd inning. Boston scored once in the bottom of the 2nd and added 3 runs in the 3rd to take the lead, at which point manager John Farrell called on David Price to come in in relief, Kelly having masterfully done his job of stabilizing a critical situation. The Red Sox went on to win the game, 10-3 as Price and two other pitchers shut down the Astros the rest of the way.

Kelly is known for his excellent athleticism, as he is seemingly a natural at whatever sport he picks up, but also for his quirky and humorous personality. In spring training in 2018, he put that facet of his personality on display when he created the character of "Jim Buchanan", a long-haired, shades-wearing baseball reporter, created through elaborate make-up. He conducted awkward on-field interviews with teammates and told off security personnel who questioned the validity of his (home made) press credentials and why he should be standing around on the field during fielding practice. "I can go anywhere, man" was his reply. On April 11th, he started a bench-clearing brawl in a game with the New York Yankees when he threw a pitch at Tyler Austin in the 7th inning, apparently in retaliation for a hard slide by Austin earlier in the game. The two exchanged punches and Kelly was suspended for 6 games and Austin for 5. While Austin saw his suspension reduced by a game on appeal, Kelly's original sentence was upheld and he began serving it on April 26th. Since the Sox were playing at home and he was banned from being in the dugout or in the press box, he decided to take in the games from the bleachers at Fenway Park, meeting fans and posing for pictures along the way. He had an inconsistent season, making 73 appearances in relief and going 4-2 with 2 saves, but also putting up an ERA of 4.39, quite high for someone with his superlative stuff. He put it all together in the postseason, however, as he made 9 appearances during the Red Sox's run to a World Series title, giving up just one earned run. He was used earlier in games than usual, as manager Alex Cora turned to some of his starters to pitch in the set-up man role. He was charged with a loss in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros on October 13th, but it did not reflect the quality of his work: he had come in in the 5th in relief of Chris Sale with the Sox down 2-0, pitched a perfect inning, then watched as his teammates tied the score in the bottom of the frame. He then allowed the first two batters in the 6th to reach, on a hit batsman and an error by 3B Eduardo Nunez on a routine grounder. An unearned run eventually resulted, and it proved to be the difference as Boston lost that game, 7-2. He also recorded a couple of wins, however, in Game 4 of that series, and in Game 4 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After the 2018 season, he became a free agent and while the Red Sox were interested in keeping him around, he instead decided to move to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a three-year contract worth $25 million. In spring training in 2019, he made a bid to add his name to the list of bizarre baseball injuries when he hurt his back during a marathon five-hour crawfish boil by standing around too long. He had a disappointing season, going 5-4, 4.56 in 55 games for the Dodgers, all in relief, with 1 save and 8 holds. His inconsistency meant that manager Dave Roberts was reluctant to use him as a set-up man, so he pitched largely in middle relief. His stuff was still good, however, with 62 Ks in 51 1/3 innings. In the postseason, he was charged with a loss in the decisive Game 5 of the Division Series on October 9th. With the score tied 3-3, he pitched a perfect top of the 9th against the Washington Nationals, but he fell apart in the 10th, with a leadoff walk to Adam Eaton, a double to Anthony Rendon, and intentional walk to Juan Soto that loaded the bases before he allowed a grand slam to Howie Kendrick. It was only after he had recorded an out and allowed another hit, a single to Yan Gomes, that Roberts finally brought in closer Kenley Jansen, but obviously, the horse had already left the barn. The Nats of course went on to win the World Series.

During the forced pause caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, a video of his became viral, as he was filmed throwing practice pitches in his backyard, when little leaguer-style, one of them completely got away from him and ended up crashing through one of his house's windows. He was also asked to comment on the Red Sox's alleged use of sign-stealing in their run to winning the 2018 World Series. He denied the allegations, as former teammates Steve Pearce and Rafael Devers had also recently done: "From the get-go, I just thought it was laugh-out-loud funny. [...] If there is cheating involved with how good our team was we should have won every single out. We should have not even lost an inning if there was some good cheating involved, which would have been a lot more fun because we would have won in four." However, when he first faced the Houston Astros on July 28th, he was seemingly on a mission from God to mete out justice on the Astros for their own sign-stealing, throwing a pitch at Alex Bregman in what was by all appearances a deliberate gesture, then mocking Carlos Correa after striking him out. It prompted benches to clear, and he was handed an eight-game suspension - very steep punishment considering the season was only 60 games. Manager Dave Roberts also received a suspension, but for one game only. While MLB's version was that Kelly was a dangerous hothead, his gesture was greeted by (virtual) cheers from fans, former Dodgers players and teammates happy to see the Astros being handed a bit of comeuppance for their cynical breaking of the rules. His suspension was reduced to five games after he appealed. He went 0-0, 1.80 in 12 games, including one start, pitching just 10 innings, but pitched another five times in the postseason as the Dodgers won a World Series title. He gave up just 1 run in 3 2/3 innings.

In 2021, he pitched 48 times in relief for the Dodgers, going 2-0, 2.86 with 2 saves and 50 strikeouts in 44 innings. He pitched another 7 times in the postseason, but this time gave up 3 runs in 5 1/3 innings as the Dodgers were stopped by the Atlanta Braves at the NLCS stage. Following the season, he signed a free agent contract with the Chicago White Sox, but his two seasons there were disappointments. In 2022, he went 1-3, 6.08 in 43 games and 37 innings. In 2023, he was 1-5, 4.97 in 31 games when he was traded on July 28th, going back to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Lance Lynn in return for Trayce Thompson, Nick Nastrini and Jordan Leasure. The Dodgers felt that in spite of his poor results, his stuff was as good as ever. This was part of a clear-out sale of pitchers by the White Sox, who had traded Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López two days before, and Kendall Graveman the same day.

He is married to Ashley Parks, who is the daughter of former major league catcher Derek Parks.

Notable Achievements[edit]


Further Reading[edit]

  • Mike DiGiovanna (Los Angeles Times): "Dodgers' Joe Kelly doesn't want your sympathy. He just wants to get you out", Yahoo! Sports, August 3, 2023. [2]
  • Henry McKenna: "Joe Kelly says 2018 Red Sox would have 'swept through the playoffs' if they actually cheated", "For the Win", USA Today, April 19, 2020. [3]
  • Josh Peter: "Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly a hero in Los Angeles and baseball world after Astros payback", USA Today, July 30, 2020. [4]
  • Juan Toribio: "Dodgers get Lynn, Kelly in trade with White Sox",, July 28, 2023. [5]

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