The Colorado Rockies need bullpen help. It’s no secret to fans or the Colorado front office. That’s why the Rockies are currently and will continue to look for bullpen help via free agency and trades. Recently, we examined the cases for a few different free agent relievers but one that there haven’t been any public discussions about is Joe Kelly.
Kelly, 33, has spent the last three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and, particularly, in the past two seasons, he has pitched well. He has had an ERA of 2.80 in the last two seasons (3.16 FIP) in 60 appearances.
But there’s a few other reasons that the Colorado Rockies should look into Joe Kelly.
For the Colorado Rockies, signing Joe Kelly would automatically take him away from the Los Angeles Dodgers, which would be a plus in and of itself. The Dodgers declined their $12 million option on Kelly for 2022, instead opting for their $4 million buyout but they are the Dodgers: they could always be looking to add players to their roster.
But for the Colorado Rockies, he could help in a few other ways.
For the Rockies, part of the reason why their starting pitching has been much better in recent years than it was in yesteryear is that the Rockies know that pitchers with higher groundball rates tend to have more success at Coors Field. For example, Germán Márquez, Jon Gray, Antonio Senzatela, and others tend to have high groundball rates.
In fact, since 2019 (with a minimum of 300 innings pitched), Senzatela has the 6th highest groundball rate and Márquez and Gray are right on his heels 2021 at 8th and 17th. In 2021, they each had ERA’s that were at least one run better at Coors Field.
For the Rockies bullpen in 2021, their two best pitchers at Coors Field (Lucas Gilbreath and Jhoulys Chacín) had the highest groundball rates of anyone in the bullpen. Other pitchers, like Robert Stephenson and Kyle Freeland, both of whom didn’t have as high of a groundball rate, still had some success but they had more success on the road (Stephenson’s ERA on the road was 2.05 and it was 4.13 on the Coors, or more than double his road ERA and Freeland’s road ERA was nearly a run lower on the road than at Coors. He was the only Rockies starter to have a better road ERA in 2021).
So it stands to reason that high groundball rate means more chance of success at Coors.
Since 2019 among relievers with a minimum of 40 innings pitched, Kelly’s groundball rate was 12th at a staggering 58.9 percent. That is higher than any Rockies pitcher currently on the roster by a fairly wide margin. For comparison, Márquez’s groundball rate in 2021 was 51.3 percent, which was the highest on the Rockies in 2021.
In addition to that groundball rate, Kelly has an extensive postseason history. He has 40 career postseason appearances with an ERA of 3.55.
The main problem against Kelly is that he had some injuries. He missed the first month of 2021 and he had two other IL stints including one in August for 2 1/2 weeks and one in the middle of the postseason. All have been shoulder or arm-related.
Given his age and injury history, though, the Rockies should be able to get him on a one- or two-year deal for roughly $10 million a year. The Colorado Rockies need to address the bullpen and Joe Kelly may be one of the most underrated relievers that could help the Rockies solve their issue in the next few seasons.