Former Gateway City darling Joe Kelly will take the mound for the Red Sox in his first appearance with his new club tonight at Busch. When healthy, Kelly’s counting numbers were solid as a Cardinal: fifteen wins, a very acceptable 3.08 ERA and a 29 quality postseason innings. Kelly developed a legion of fans with his off-the-field antics and colorful personality. For Kelly’s sake, the start tonight against his former club could be a positive or a negative. Kelly is excellent at spacious Busch Stadium, compiling a 9-7 record and a 2.90 ERA over his two-ish seasons as a Cardinal. He knows the opposing lineup as well as any pitcher in the league, and he’ll have a crowd behind him thats eager to show support. On the downside, Kelly will likely have a lot of emotions running on high that could effect his ability to dial in his excellent stuff. Not only is it his first start with a new team, it’s in his former team’s home park a week after he was traded. Kelly also told the Boston globe that he “only packed for a day after he left for Boston” and that while he’s here he has “a lot of stuff to figure out”. On top of everything else, Kelly will be opposing his best friend, Cards starter Shelby Miller. While no one denies Kelly’s pure stuff, his peripheral numbers haven’t quite agreed with his ERA and win-loss totals. His career WHIP is a pedestrian 1.38. He has a 96 mph fastball that can touch 98 with a hard sinker and two breaking balls, yet has averaged just 6 K/9 over 266 big league innings. His FIP of an even 4.00 suggests a league average pitcher. While Kelly benefitted from his home park as a Cardinal, things will get tougher pitching in Fenway Park, a haven for many hitters. Kelly’s move from the NL Central to the AL East won’t help either. While Kelly was well liked and flashed excellent stuff while producing results in St. Louis, the Cardinals likely sold high on the right-hander. Kelly probably would have fallen behind Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, John Lackey, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and perhaps Trevor Rosenthal on the depth chart for starting pitchers next season. John Mozeliak made a wise decision, trading Kelly at the last moments that he could still market him as a starting pitcher (and outfielder Allen Craig as a decent hitter). While many fans were up-in-arms about the ousting of Kelly and Craig, it was another shrewd move by Mozeliak to get the kind of talent he received in John Lackey in exchange for two guys who likely wouldn’t have a significant role for this team in the near future. Kelly could still develop further and turn in to a dependable starting pitcher. He has the stuff and the bulldog mentality to be a starter in the big leagues. It’s entirely possible that three years from now Kelly will be starting every fifth day somewhere and Lackey will be retired, but at this moment right now, the Cardinals have a better chance of winning the World Series in 2014 and 2015 than they did before the deal was made. They’re also saving themselves the most expensive years of Allen Craig’s backloaded contract and opened up every day playing time for Vladimir Guer-, I mean Oscar Taveras. Kelly will get a nice ovation and a pat on the back from the Busch Stadium faithful tonight for the work he did in St. Louis and it will bring closure to the situation for many fans after his abrupt exit. The masses will let show him love when he takes his first at-bat, and Joe will step out of the box and reciprocate with a tip of the cap. He will get a proper send-off, then, we can all being angry about trading Joe Kelly, the league average starter.
Stephen Nations is a writer/blogger/journalist from St. Louis, Missouri. He currently contributes his opinions, musings, and observations to InsideSTL.com, KSDK.com, and ArchCitySports.com. You can find him on Twitter at @Nayshface and Facebook at Facebook.com/stephen.nations