Shawn Kelley is a big dude. At 6-foot-2, 225, he's a traditional hard-throwing fastball-slider reliever. His fastball averages 93-94 mph and the slider has good depth, breaking away to righties and boring in on lefties.
On Saturday night in an 11-1 over the Atlanta Braves, Kelley gave up two hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings. In a rarity, he didn't strikeout a batter.
In an offseason that saw a complete overhaul of the bullpen, he could prove to be the most important addition.
Kelley strikes out a ton of guys. The past three seasons, a "ton" means 12.0 and 11.7 per nine innings in '13 and '14 for the New York Yankees and 11.0 for the San Diego Padres last season. His rate dropped a touch last year, but so did his walk rate -- from 3.5 in '14 to 2.6 last year, the lowest single-season rate of his career.
Kelley has had a fly-ball tendency in his career, so the high K-rate helps mitigate that. But he has shown improvements to his ground ball rate too, as his GB/FB ratio last year was 0.77, again, the highest full-season rate of his career.
Why is that important? Fly balls are fickle -- sometimes it doesn't take much to turn a fly ball out into a home run. Ground balls are almost always not home runs. And certainly not of the fly-over-the-fence type.
Here's the real encouraging thing about Kelley: while his K-rate has stayed within one percentage point the past three seasons, his home run percentage, extra-base percentage and BB-rate have all gone down. And the gains he made in ERA last year were supported by FIP. He's gotten better, damn near to the point of becoming an elite reliever.
And the Nats got him for relative pocket change on a three-year deal.
That last part is key. The only reason a pitcher with Kelley's skill didn't command a closer's salary as a free agent is, well, he hasn't been a closer. But with skills like this, assuming health, he'll be closer-in-waiting once the Nats are relieved of the guy holding down that spot currently. And at a bargain price, I might add.