Joe Kelly does everything the White Sox like

When does a type become a fetish?

Perhaps somebody can ask Rick Hahn that whenever the White Sox officially announce the signing of Joe Kelly.

The reason the question comes to mind: Only 12 relievers last year threw at least 40 innings with a ground-ball rate above 54 percent, and a strikeout rate of at least 25 percent.

Should Kelly pass his physical — and that’s a caveat that’s worth some attention, as you’ll learn — the White Sox now have three of them, with another preceding Kelly this offseason.

PitcherIPHRGB%K%
Aaron Bummer56.1376.131
Kendall Graveman56354.927.5
Joe Kelly44358.927.5

Hahn has his reasons. Guaranteed Rate Field’s reputation as a hitter-friendly park is entirely due to home runs, so limiting them becomes the quickest way to win on the run-prevention side. Meanwhile, the long ball was Liam Hendriks’ lone flaw last season, and while he got a handle on it over the last two months of 2021, it makes sense to limit the number of quick-strike chances in front of him should he battle a relapse.

This aggressive pursuit of relievers only becomes a knock on Hahn should the money he’s pouring into the bullpen start to hamper investments elsewhere. To that point, the White Sox probably wouldn’t have paired this signing with the one-year commitment to Josh Harrison as the apparent second-base solution if they had ultimate control of the offseason’s order, but I’ll be talking about him later.

PERTINENT: White Sox jump into post-lockout frenzy with Joe Kelly, Josh Harrison


While it feels like Hahn can’t stop acquiring relievers, a lack of internal locks has led him to search for certainty elsewhere. He traded for Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel at the deadline last summer; Tepera is a free agent, and Kimbrel has a “TRADE ME” sign taped to his back. And even if you think that Kimbrel has more in the tank and the Sox are going to find out for themselves, somebody still has to replace Michael Kopech, who is now in the rotation.

Hopefully Hahn can rest on the name-brand reliever front, because the bullpen is reaching its saturation point. If Tony La Russa isn’t lying and the Sox won’t indulge any six-man rotation strategies out of the gate, the Sox basically have everything they need on the staff. The leverage ladder is well-balanced with late-inning options and guys who shouldn’t be taxed by long relief.

  • Liam Hendriks
  • Aaron Bummer
  • Kendall Graveman
  • Joe Kelly
  • Craig Kimbrel
  • Garrett Crochet
  • Reynaldo López (out of options)
  • José Ruíz (out of options)

Hahn said the Sox have designs on Crochet stepping into Kopech’s previous role as a multi-inning weapon, which leaves recent 40-man additions like Anderson Severino and Bennett Sousa in play from that side. If Crochet doesn’t have to go three innings with regularity, then Ryan Burr and his 57-percent ground-ball rate are on the outside looking in. That’s decent-enough depth, especially if Kimbrel ever resumes looking like the guy the Sox thought they acquired … although the addition of Kelly seems better suited for a Sox team (and payroll) that’s putting the Nick Madrigal trade behind them.


Kelly also gives the White Sox an incredibly seasoned October competitor. He’s logged 40 games and 58⅓ innings while appearing in eight different postseasons, including each of the last seven. He’s pitched in three World Series and has two rings to show for it (Red Sox in 2018, Dodgers in 2020).

He hasn’t always been the guy fans want to see in such situations. His arsenal has a lot to do with it. A 98-mph sinker and a curveball with 93rd-percentile spin means that he yields his share of walks, hit batters and wild pitches when his release point is off. (Hopefully all these low-living pitchers inspire Hahn to find a backup catcher who can hold the bottom of the zone and block.)

He also has a reputation for wild moments due to his intense personality. He threw behind Alex Bregman and jawed with Carlos Correa in the first meeting between the Dodgers and Astros after the banging scheme broke in 2020, earning a five-game suspension

… and a mural.

A couple years earlier, he ignited another bench-clearing brawl as a member of the Red Sox by drilling the Yankees’ Tyler Austin after Austin slid hard into second base.

Kelly admitted that he’s had to wrestle with his emotions over the years. The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya wrote about Kelly’s rough upbringing, and Kelly discussed how he’s had to manage his impulse control.

“I have a lot of downfalls,” Kelly said. “But my major one is going from 0 to 100 faster than I should. And I have to say sorry after it. But I will say sorry.”

Apparently he’s great at making good, because while he may be a little too willing to mix it up with other teams, the people in his own clubhouse love him. Apparently La Russa wanted Kelly, although I would’ve chosen a different descriptor.

La Russa might owe Kelly, who found La Russa’s World Series ring in his glove after a first pitch in 2018. More likely, Kelly’s the kind of player that La Russa would chastise in somebody else’s dugout, but defend to the death in his.

If there’s any question about Kelly, it’s his health. His season ended in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series when he walked off the mound after 24 first-inning pitches due to upper-arm pain and numbness in his forearm, which Dr. Neal ElAttrache determined to be stemming from the musculocutaneous nerve. There were concerns that Kelly would have to miss six months, but the atrophy that accompanies some cases of nerve irritation apparently never materialized.

A different nerve issue, due to a cyst that required shoulder surgery, caused his season to start late. He pitched well in between despite an August bout of COVID-19, but that’s why he was limited to 44 innings in 2021. Perhaps the uncertainty was enough for the Dodgers to decline Kelly’s $12 million option, even with a hefty $4 million buyout.

If he’s no worse for the wear and tear, then La Russa should be comfortable with all sorts of combinations in the back half of ballgames. If Kelly has to miss time here and there, that’s what Graveman is for. And if a late-season issue carries into 2021, here’s where I’ll note that the deal Kelly reportedly signed — two years and $17 million with an option according to Joel Sherman — is roughly the same as the one the Sox gave Kelvin Herrera. This is a terrible way to end a post, but I didn’t want to ruin the vibe earlier, so here we are.

Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

Articles: 3710
37 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Yolmer's gatorade

The Phillies signed Jeurys Familia for $2.5 million less a year, and Familia is a middle reliever LAIM. Kelly has a lot of experience and could definitely be a above average weapon out of the pen throughout the season and into the playoffs. It is a good signing even if it is not the flashy signing everyone seems to want.

Michael Kenny

And hopefully Joe Kelly treats his Familia better.

jhomeslice

Well their bullpen should be pretty good, you would think. I don’t expect anything from Kimbrel but that holds true even if they hopefully trade him. If they can’t, keeping him for 16M and then skimping on a 2b for 5M will be a dumb mistake they will regret.

I hope they’ve got something in mind for RF that isn’t Joc Pederson or some other dumpster dive. Maybe a SP. I hope tonight isn’t the extent of their roster upgrades post lockout, but I would not be surprised. They just never do anything that would be cause for real excitement or optimism.

soxfan

 They just never do anything that would be cause for real excitement or optimism.

Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Jose Abreu, Lance Lynn and Tim Anderson’s contract extension would like a word.

metasox

Sox still have that logjam of DH/1B types that could open up trade possibilities. I would include a part of Grandal’s time in that mix. And with an NL that needs more of those guys.

Last edited 6 months ago by metasox
Trooper Galactus

Nice pickup, but is it too much to ask Hahn to solve another roster need by flinging gobs of money at it outside of the bullpen?

mikeyb

Relievers are just so volatile year over year, I’m not sure it’s worth it to invest so much in the bullpen. Last year we all went into the season thinking the bullpen was going to be a major strength for this team, and then we all spent significant parts of the season complaining about the pen. I would much rather have spent all of this capital on RF, 2B, and C. Hopefully it all works out, but I’m a bit skeptical.

asinwreck

This is some impressive writing-to-a-deadline analysis, Jim. Yes, Kelly’s health issues give me pause and your concluding thought is a sobering one.

On a lighter note, I will say that Herb Lawrence found this video:

which gives me strong Thyago Vieira vibes:

soxfan

It was a pandemic. Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Joe Kelly worked on a change up. We all needed something to get us through the dark days.

knoxfire30

This team has such an odd allocation of resources. You have two super utility guys getting 5 or 5.5 mil each who are now gonna somewhat platoon at 2nd? You have like 50 mil in the bullpen even if that number is skewed a bit by Kimbrel until he is gone its on your books. Yet you havent spent a dime on DH or RF, and one of your utility guys is gonna man 2nd every day…. just really really odd.

The sox are in a pattern of making moves that separately seem perfectly reasonable but put together as a whole seem very odd. Also not sure how much I love that it always seems like a move is made that LaRussa wants… is Hahn ok just being an armchair gm?

dwjm3

Hahn just wants to make Hawk happy by assembling as many bullpen pitchers as possible.

I tell ya Stone pony todays game is a game of bullpens

Stone pony you don’t even need a right fielder anymore you can just play glove on chair out there

HallofFrank

Yeah, it’s not how I would do it. But to interpret the moves as charitably as possible—there is some merit in bolstering depth, even at the expense of a downgrade in, for example, RF. And there are some, at least, interesting RF options in house (Vaughn, Adolfo), even if uninspiring ones.

That said: yeah, it’s not how it would do it. And I’m still holding out hope that bigger moves are coming.

Augusto Barojas

Always hoping for bigger moves, which never come.

With Garcia and Harrison having identical WARs in 2021, it is arguable that their 2b did not get any better, just added depth. And their offense against RHP is certainly not any better. Will they ever acknowledge their weaknesses and actually address them?

HallofFrank

The “big moves never come” sentiment seems to be common but it’s just wrong. It’s true that the Sox never make *the biggest* moves—the Machados and Harpers. But they do make big moves. In the previous two off seasons, they handed out three $50m guaranteed contracts to FAs (more if you count extensions).

Once again — I’m not defending *how* they are spending the money, but they are spending the money. They’ve been one of the more aggressive teams over the last three years.

jhomeslice

Before giving credit for how much they are spending, I would remind how in 2021 they were ranked 15th in payroll, behind even the Cubs, and 50M behind the Astros. Settling for Eaton as their opening day RF. Aggressive is not a word I would use to describe that. I think pitiful and cheap are more appropriate.

Grandal remains the biggest contract they have given out during the whole rebuild. I’m not impressed by Graveman/Garcia/Harrison/Kelly/Kimbrel, when what they all have in common is they are all short term contracts because Jerry is too chicken to pony up any multi year deals for anybody that would actually make them championship level like Springer, Semien, etc. Adding several decent but unexciting players (which include Kimbrel) is not what they needed, and yet is all they have done. I don’t really care if they spend more if they don’t actually make the team more than marginally better, which seems to be the case this winter.

HallofFrank

So, again – my point wasn’t to defend *how* they’ve spent nor suggest that they’ll shop at the very top of the market. It was only to say: expecting bigger moves isn’t unreasonable because they’ve done over the last few offseasons. And to say they “never come” just isn’t true.

Trooper Galactus

Are our standards so pathetic that $50 million contracts are considered big moves?

HallofFrank

$50m contracts are big moves for anyone. There’s a spectrum here, of course. But no one hands out $50m deals like candy, and $50m puts you either at the top of the market for non-premium positions or nets you an above-average player at premium positions.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

16 million of the 34 they spent this offseason is for Kimbrel, who – surprise – they are apparently not finding takers for. Nothing they have done this winter is worthy of applause.

HallofFrank

I’m not even sure what this is in response to. Did you see me giving out applause for their moves this winter? In fact, I said, “It’s not how I would do it.”

jhomeslice

And which of their signings this winter were 50M contracts? Garcia 3 years 15M. Kelley 2 years 17. Harrison 5M 1 year. Kimbrel 1 year 16M. That’s 53M in total contract dollars for four players, none of whom are above average position players like they needed to actually improve their World Series chances. Kimbrel likely to be a total waste of 16M, I’m not giving them points for spending idiotically and not improving their biggest weaknesses in the least.

Hopefully they have other moves coming, that’s about it.

HallofFrank

If you’ll read my above comments, I’m referring to “the previous two offseasons.” So, I have in mind Grandal, Keuchel, and Hendriks. I don’t count this offseason as a “previous” offseason because we’re in the middle of it, and the whole point of my comment in the first place was that bigger moves have come in the past, so it’s not unreasonable to hope another one is coming (even if I wouldn’t bet the house on it). I was only countering the kind of reflexive pessimism you voiced earlier.

Trooper Galactus

The White Sox currently have six players on $50+ million guaranteed deals (seven if you include Kimbrel). Only three of those were to bring in players from outside the organization (Keuchel, Grandal, Hendriks) and the rest were extensions for incumbent players. Eloy, Lynn, and Tim are very likely to have options picked up that will put their contracts over $50 million.

$50 million is not insignificant, but these are not “big” moves. Sure, having that many guys good enough to make that sort of money is nice, but when you take into consideration that none of them is guaranteed more than Grandal’s $73 million, you start to notice there’s a pretty hard cap on the quality of player the White Sox are going to pursue, which is frustrating as a fan.

jhomeslice

Nice take on weird payroll allocation. If we recall what their primary weakness was vs the Astros and for 2020/2021, it was weak hitting vs RHP. They were 3-8 against them in 2021, losing 5 or 6 of those games by 5 runs or more. Harrison is right handed and arguably makes no difference at all in bridging the gap with the Astros, who signed a supposedly very healthy RHP named Verlander. Harrison is simply not a difference maker.

Unless they surprise and sign somebody like Schwarber, which I am guessing is out of the question because they upped the payroll by 13M yesterday without making their offense any better against right handed pitching, I think this is all just typical poor decision making by the Sox front office. I leave room of course that they can do something else that would actually excite fans – but they never do, that’s the thing. I’m guessing yesterday was the bulk of what they will do to finish the roster, and we can look forward to another division title while knowing that the results in October will probably be the same.

knoxfire30

Conforto or Schwarber almost make too much sense at this point. With conforto you get a little bit more questionable of a hitter recently but he is still strong defensively, with schwarber you get a bit more reliability at the plate especailly vs righties but TLR will be looking to get Engel in defensively by the 6th or 7th.

I have no idea why some of the glaring sox problems have been ignored. Finding a lefty power bat is now priority one to me even maybe more so then starting pitching which seems nuts but youve allocated so much to the bullpen and playoff baseball has turned into a musical chairs match of how fast can you remove your starter I think Left hand bat is a more desired need. Still waiting on that backup catcher too… Camp is basically gonna be full go by Monday or Tuesday and the holes really remain.

jhomeslice

Yep. And the thing is, between Garcia, Harrison, Kelly, and Kimbrel, they spent 34M. Nobody could convince me that if they had done none of that and instead signed Schwarber, letting the chips fall where they may to address their bullpen and backup 2b needs, that they would not have been enormously better off. Schwarber is what they needed, not Harrison/Kelly/Kimbrel. Unless they add somebody like him, or Conforto who to me isn’t quite as good, I have about given up on this team because as you said, they have the same holes that were the reason they lost to the Astros. I hate Reinsdorf more and more as the years go by, just a pathetic cheapskate/fraud that gives nothing back to the fans who made him wealthy in the first place.

mikeschach

It’s comforting that the Sox are building up infield and bullpen depth, for occasional use. If only there were an everyday, decent-fielding, left-handed hitting, high OBP, adequate power-hitting right-fielder available instead. Signing one would be truly conforto-ing.

calcetinesblancos

What’s even the point of having a good pen if The Russa only brings them in once you’re down 5 runs?

Trooper Galactus

To be fair, they had one of the best offenses in the AL despite all the injuries, though they did struggle a bit against RHP and haven’t really done anything to address that yet. They were also 11th out of 15 AL teams in home runs, and while some of that will probably be improved by full seasons from Eloy and Robert, it would be nice to get another power bat, and Harrison ain’t it.

Greg Nix

Rick Hahn when there’s a right handed reliever available
comment image

peanutsNcrackerjack

I’ve lost track of where the Sox payroll sits after these latest adds, but hopefully moving Kimbrel if only for a decent, read inexpensive, back up catcher would allow for a Swarber/Conforto signing. Starting rotation is good enough to get to the trade deadline where help becomes available. Bullpen is strong, offense improved with some left handed pop, 2 solid catchers, adequate second base with Harrison.

asinwreck

The Sox have found their right fielder.

jorgefabregas

A better six or seventh starter than Lambert and Stiever at least

Trooper Galactus

…is he, though?

metasox

Will be curious if the Sox see potential for adjustments or if they are happy with him as a swingman who can eat some innings.

jorgefabregas

Twins got Sonny Gray.

Trooper Galactus

On the one hand, the White Sox are spending serious money. On the other hand, they are not spending it on anything that improves them significantly in their weakest areas.