The Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Arizona Diamondbacks are among the teams that have defied the odds this year and are making a splash in the first half.
Arizona has been making waves in the powerhouse National League (NL) West, leapfrogging the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants to take the lead in the race for the division crown from the reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Arizona, which last missed the playoffs in 2017, had a winning percentage below .500 for three straight seasons before last year. They were considered a longshot to make the playoffs again this year.
Fast forward to today, and Arizona is 28-20, tied with the Dodgers for second place in the West and the first NL wild card. Fangraphs gives Arizona a 52.5% chance of making the playoffs. It’s not a sure thing yet, but they’re playing well enough that it’s safe to get your fall baseball hopes up.
Starting pitcher Merrill Kelly has been a key part of the Arizona surge. He is one of the KBO’s signature “reverse-exported luxury goods” that has garnered the attention of fans in Korea. Together with ace Zach Galen, they anchor the Arizona starting mound.
Kelly ranks in the top 10 in every major NL pitching category. In 10 starts and 57⅓ innings pitched, Kelly is 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA and 59 strikeouts. He is tied for fourth in the NL in wins, tied for 10th in ERA, tied for 10th in strikeouts, tied for seventh in innings pitched, eighth in WHIP (1.08), second in batting average (0.194) and second in BABIP (0.248).
It’s Arizona, so he’s only a No. 2 starter, but he wouldn’t be out of place as a No. 1 starter on most teams.
Kelly came to the major leagues after spending four years with the SK Wyverns. He was 26 years old when he first joined the Wyverns and had no major league experience. A coach at the time said, “He came to the major leagues at a young age, so his motivation is obvious,” and that he had the qualities to succeed, including a stable pitching form, a variety of pitches, and a quick arm swing.
In his four seasons in the KBO, he appeared in 119 games and threw 729⅔ innings, compiling a 48-32 record with a 3.86 ERA and 641 strikeouts. Career highs include a 16-7 record, 3.60 ERA, and 189 strikeouts in 190 innings pitched in 30 games in 2017.
In his first season with Arizona, he went 13-14 with a 4.42 ERA. After a shortened 2020 season and 158 innings in 27 games in 2021, Kelly went 13-8 with a 3.37 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 33 games last year. In particular, he showed off his “innings-eater” qualities with 200⅓ innings pitched, posting a 1.14 WHIP and a .226 batting average. Last year, he was tied for 12th in the NL in wins, 15th in ERA, 11th in strikeouts, 5th in innings pitched, 12th in WHIP, and 10th in batting average.먹튀검증
This year, his numbers show that he’s stepping up to the next level as a starter.
He signed a two-year, $18 million extension with a team option for 2025 just before last season, which some consider a “bargain” based on his performance last year and this season.
Meanwhile, FanGraphs published an article titled “Meryl Kelly has a new weapon” on April 24. “Starting the WBC Finals is less special than scoring a goal in the World Cup, but it’s something only 10 players in history have done,” Fangraphs wrote, and then cited Kelly’s new slider as a factor in her success.
Kelly is throwing the slider 5.6 percent of the time this year after rarely throwing it last year. He has a .182 batting average on sliders and a whopping 54.2% swinging strike rate.