Player Preview: Shawn Kelley
The 2015 Nats bullpen was a dreaded wasteland of darkness. A call to the Nats bullpen opened the door for the opposition instead of slamming it shut. It makes sense then that the Nationals 2016 off-season focused on the bullpen and one of their key additions is Shawn Kelley. Kelley's career isn't that impressive with a career 3.67 ERA and no season with more than 54 innings pitched. What Shawn Kelley is though is a veteran reliever not coming off of injury.
Think about the Nats 2015 bullpen and all the question marks coming into the season. Tyler Clippard was the only reliable reliever the Nationals had and they shipped him off to Oakland for Yunel Escobar. Drew Storen was coming off of yet another playoff disappointment and we saw how that turned out in 2013, Casey Janssen was signed as a free agent but was coming off of injury and poor performance, Craig Stammen had never been relied on as anything more than a long reliever, Matt Thornton was pushing 40, and the rest of the Nationals bullpen were first or second year players. We now know how a bullpen of question marks turned out, especially when Craig Stammen went down. Shawn Kelley may not have the most impressive stats but he's only a question mark to the degree that all relievers are question marks.
Relief pitching is the most volatile position in all of sports. Nothing can change and everything can change. Shawn Kelley pitched 51 2/3 innings in 2014 and 51 1/3 innings in 2015 with very different results, a 4.53 ERA in 2014 and a 2.45 ERA in 2015. Multiple things changed around Kelley. He moved from the Yankees to the Padres, the AL to the NL, from a hitters park with a short porch in right field to a pitchers park with a high wall in right field, and his walks per nine decreased by roughly a walk per nine.
The important stat for Shawn Kelley is K/9. It's what he does well and why he is a valuable addition to the Nationals bullpen. Over the last three season he's struck out 12.0, 11.7, 11.0 batters per nine innings. If he can be close to that in 2016 then the Nationals made a good deal in bringing him to Washington. The 2015 Nats bullpen lacked everything, but without Tyler Clippard it really lacked that pitcher that could be called upon in the middle of a tense situation to get a strikeout.
Much like the Nationals off-season revolved around diversifying the line-up they spent some time in diversifying the bullpen. Shawn Kelley is a strikeout reliever. He can be used when it's runners second and third and one out to navigate the Nats to the end of the inning. Middle relievers are situational players, and if a bullpen is not diverse then it will automatically be lacking. Shawn Kelley does much to address many of the Nationals 2015 issues, but most important he is not a question mark.