Thursday, April 7, 2016

Boston Red Sox @ Cleveland Indians, 6:10 PM ET
BOS: Joe Kelly (10-6, 134.1 IP, 4.82 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 1.44 WHIP, 7.4 K/9)
CLE: Danny Salazar (14-10, 185.0 IP, 3.45 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 1.13 WHIP, 9.5 K/9)

Rich Gagnon/Getty Images North America

Rich Gagnon/Getty Images North America

After breaking on to the scene as a 24-year-old in 2012, Joe Kelly worked 231.0 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals over 61 games and 31 starts between 2012 and 2013, posting an excellent 3.08 ERA in his first two major league seasons. After a rocky start to 2014, Kelly was traded to Boston along with Allen Craig in exchange for veteran starter John Lackey at that year’s trade deadline. Kelly finished 2014 with a 4.20 ERA in 17 starts and just 96.1 innings pitched, a step back from his performance in the previous two seasons.

Heading into 2015, the Red Sox were excited to have Kelly in the back end of their rotation, hoping he could regain the success he had before 2014. His first outing of the season was impressive, as he worked seven innings, allowing just one run off of a hit and two walks, notching eight strikeouts against the rival New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. From there on out, Kelly’s season was decidedly less impressive, as he ran up his ERA to 5.94 at the end of July. After July, Kelly’s results improved mightily, and he won seven straight starts from August 1 to September 9, lowering his ERA to as low as 4.70, before his final start of the season (a 2.1 innings effort in which he surrendered four runs).

Kelly’s lively fastball, averaging 95.4 mph last season according to PitchF/X, and good secondary pitches have always turned eyes, but Kelly’s lackluster 6.4 career K/9 shows he’s yet to learn how to convert his above-average stuff into whiffs and strikeouts. After his strong conclusion to 2015, Kelly impressed this spring, posting a 2.63 ERA in six spring training starts (24.0 innings) and striking out 22 batters against eight walks. While his high hits per nine (9.8 H/9) and poor ground ball/fly ball ratio (0.74 GB/FB) are concerning, his ability to get more strikeouts and limit runs allowed are good signs leading into 2016.

Danny Salazar made his major-league debut in 2013 and started 10 games for the Indians, working to an impressive 3.12 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 52.0 innings across ten starts. 2014 was less successful, as he split the season between the majors and Triple-A, finishing with a 4.25 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 110.0 innings across 20 starts.

In 2015, Salazar finally put it all together, firing his way to a 3.45 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 185.0 innings across 30 starts. Salazar allowed just 156 hits (7.6 H/9) and 53 walks (2.6 BB/9) along with 195 strikeouts (9.5 K/9), but his propensity to allow the longball (23 HR, 1.1 HR/9) kept him from reaching elite levels last year.

Like Kelly, the 26-year-old Salazar has fantastic stuff, with a fastball that’s averaged 94.9 mph in his career and a great changeup with late, sinking movement and about a 10 mph differential from his fastball (85.0 avg velocity for his career, according to PitchF/X). However, unlike Kelly, Salazar has been able to use those weapons to his advantage against hitters, as he’s racked up 380 strikeouts in 347.0 innings through three seasons in his career. Salazar’s also shown above-average ability to limit base hits, working to a 8.2 H/9 over his career, a number somewhat inflated by the 11.0 H/9 he allowed in the first half of 2014.

This season looks to be quite pivotal for both pitchers, as Kelly tries to finally prove himself as a solid back-end starter for the Red Sox and Salazar hopes to build and improve upon a successful 2015. This matchup will be each hurlers’ first test of the young season and starting the season on a positive note will be key. Kelly’s test will be avoiding hits and walks and racking up strikeouts in a way that more reflects the electric stuff he possesses in his arsenal. For Salazar, keeping the ball in the ballpark and continuing to limit baserunners and rack up K’s will be essential. Let’s just hope that the weather holds up:

Honorable Mentions:

Houston Astros @ New York Yankees, 4:05 PM ET: Mike Fiers vs. Nathan Eovaldi – After a mid-season trade sent him from Milwaukee to Houston for the playoff run, Mike Fiers looks to begin his first full season with the Astros on a positive note. Nathan Eovaldi and his electric fastball (96.7 avg velocity according to PitchF/X) takes the mound for the Yankees in the series finale between last year’s American League wild card winners.

Los Angeles Dodgers @ San Francisco Giants, 4:35 PM ET: Alex Wood vs. Jake Peavy – Owner of what may very well be MLB’s funkiest left-handed delivery, Alex Wood toes the rubber for the Dodgers in his first full season with the club. Seasoned veteran Jake Peavy may be entering his age-35 season, but he posted a solid 3.58 ERA for the Giants last year and is still as fiery as he’s ever been.

About The Author

Matt Wojciak is a 20-year-old senior at St. Joseph's College of Maine, studying for a degree in Accounting. He is a lifelong Red Sox fan, born and raised in southern New Hampshire, with much of his extended family residing in South Boston. If you're a fan of quantity and not quality, be sure to give him a follow on Twitter @mwojciak21.

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