Joe Kelly and Jackie Bradley Jr. both struggled not just earlier this year, but really since the start of their respective Sox careers – that is, until last month. However, Since the beginning of August each of them have turned in outstanding, and frankly unexpected contributions, helping the Red Sox go 21-15 in that span. Their individual dramatic turn-arounds are thanks in part to playing in the minor leagues, which gave each of them an opportunity to work through the struggles they experienced in the majors.
In Joe Kelly’s case, the problem was more approach and strategy than it was mechanics and physical ability. This guy has a god-given pitching arm that can touch 100 mph at times. What he wasn’t doing earlier in the year was paint the corners and throw enough off-speed pitches to offset the heaters. Instead, he would leave too many fastballs down the middle and up in the zone. Debating on whether they wanted to move him to the bullpen or send him down to Pawtucket, the Red Sox decided to send Kelly to Pawtucket on June 25, giving him a chance to work on his command. At that time, Machine Gun Kelly was 2-5 with 5.67 era.
Upon call-up, Joe Kelly seemed to struggle. In his first 3 starts he allowed at least 4 earned runs and barely managed to get through 6 innings in his outings. However, since the start of August Kelly has posted a ridiculous 8-0 record with a 2.58 era. He has won all of his starts since then, which something only Pedro Martinez has done with the Red Sox. Now, Kelly strategically mixes his sliders or throws change-ups in the right counts. He gets ahead of batters by spotting his pitches. The command of all his pitches but particularly the slider, have drastically improved.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Like Kelly, Jackie Bradley Jr. had raw talent but nothing to show for. He had rare spiderman-like abilities in center field, but was struggling with the mechanics of his swing. Most people didn’t think he could hit at the Major League level. Admittedly, I was one of them. Over the past two years, he had hit under .200 (.196) and was by far the worst hitting center fielder in the majors. On top of that, Bradley was reportedly “stubborn” on being coached on his swing and stance before getting demoted to the Paw Sox around this time last year. Early in 2015, Bradley would get brief call-ups from Pawtucket for defensive purposes, but it didn’t seem like it was getting much better at the plate for Bradley. Despite hitting .305 in nearly 300 at-bats with the PawSox, Jackie never brought his batting average up over .150 with the Red Sox through the end of June.
Bradley Jr. got called up again July 29th, this time to get consistent playing time. He played nearly every day since that time. With a scorching hot August, Bradley compiled an insane .354 average to go along with 23 RBI and 17 extra base hits, which is tied with Big Papi for 4th in the bigs. But what’s more impressive is the sweet stroke that Bradley Jr. found out the plate. Through his stint in the minors Jackie changed his stance, and added a bigger kick-step before his swing which improved his timing. He’s also been able to clean out the inside fastball with ease, something he could never do prior to August.
There is no question that these two look like completely different players and it is more than encouraging what they have been able to do this month. It is truly remarkable. Like many of the Red Sox players, particularly the young guys, you hope Kelly and Bradley Jr. can continue performing like they have been playing through the end of the year. Next year continues to look more and more promising.