‘First win + ERA 2.88’ Kelly, secret is ‘splitter + sweeper’

“For five years, I made a living off the curveball. Hitters knew it and waited for it, so I wanted to disrupt their perspective in a different way.”

Sixth year in the KBO. Casey Kelly’s (35-LG Twins) transformation is working, and it’s not off to a bad start.

Kelly started the 2024 KBO regular season opener against the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul on Wednesday, allowing one run (unearned) on seven hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings to earn his first win of the season.

It’s the pitching that stands out. Kelly won 10 games last year (7 losses), but his ERA skyrocketed to 3.83 from the previous year (2.54 in 2022). He also struck out 129 batters, down from 153. There were even opinions that he should be replaced to win the title as the team challenged for the title last year. Manager Yoon Kyung-yeop believed in him and encouraged him to try out the new pitcher instead. As a result, Kelly made two appearances in the Korean Series (KS), pitching a perfect game and becoming one of the main contributors to the championship. He even managed to re-sign with the team, a seemingly impossible feat, and is now in his sixth year in Korea.

It’s still early in the season, but April hasn’t been bad for him this year. After a slow start in March, he has posted two quality starts (7+ innings pitched and 3 earned runs or less) in April.

When Kelly met with the press after the victory on the 12th, he mentioned the gut bell. “Last season was my most difficult year since I came to the KBO,” he said, “so I worked on new pitches during the offseason. I learned a sweeper, and I refined my splitter (which I put on ahead of the KS).” In the 12 games, Kelly’s pitch breakdown showed a total of 29 curveballs, three splitters, eight changeups, 11 sliders, and seven cutters (cut fastballs). Of these pitches, the slider was described by LG as a sweeper.

The KBO is currently dominated by sweepers. Last year’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), Eric Pedroia (Chicago White Sox), led the league with a sweeper. Brandon Waddell (Doosan Bears), who was sought out as a replacement for two consecutive years, but was re-signed for a third year this year with a 180-degree turnaround in his performance, also has a sideways slider that resembles a sweeper. James Nail, the Kia Tigers’ newest acquisition with a 0.47 ERA, also has a sweeper.

Kelly also has a sweeper in his repertoire. Unlike other pitchers, he doesn’t aim to dominate the league with one new weapon. “After five years in the KBO, hitters know 메이저사이트 my tendencies. They’ve kind of calculated what I’m going to throw. So I had to find a new way to cook them. I spent a lot of time in the offseason working on that.”

“As you know, my deciding pitch was my curveball. I’ve been throwing it for five years, so hitters are kind of coming in thinking, ‘Oh, Kelly’s a curveball,’ so I wanted to disrupt their vision in a different way,” he said. “The idea was to keep the fastball close to the body, and then throw a sweeper that moves in the same trajectory as the fastball. I wanted to distract them with the sweeper,” he explains.

Six years in Korea. Korean baseball has become more than a job for Kelly, it’s a way of life. When I asked Kelly what he talked about with newcomer Detrick Enns (LG), he laughed and said, “We don’t talk about much. We talk about where the best restaurants are and where the best kids’ cafes are,” he said. “He’s played in Major League Baseball (MLB) and Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). I don’t have anything to say about his pitching. And he’s been doing really well so far. When you watch him play, you think, “Wow, baseball is fun to watch. It’s fun to watch,” he said.

Fresh off their first integrated championship in 29 years, LG is the No. 1 favorite to win the title this year, but they’ve gotten off to a slow start. Nine wins, one draw and eight losses in 12 games. They’re just +1 at 5-to-1.

But Kelly isn’t hiding his confidence: “Baseball is not easy. The chances of failure are much higher than the chances of success,” he said, but added, “We have a lot of veterans, a lot of experienced players. I think they’re going to figure it out, and I think the team is going to get back on track.”

“Obviously, we’re not playing the best baseball we can play,” Kelly said. But they’re still working hard, and they’re still working hard every day. I’m confident that they’re going to get through this and figure it out.”


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