- Rating: 8.70
- 2022 stats: 33 G, 200.1 IP, 3.37 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.138 WHIP, 152:53 SO/BB, 119 ERA+, 3.6 bWAR
- Date of birth: October 14, 1988 (34 years old)
- 2022 earnings: $5.25 million
- 2023 status: On 40-man roster, 2-years/$17 million guaranteed left on contract with a team option for 2025 with a $1 million buyout
2022 in review
2022 was by far and away the best season of Merrill Kelly’s career, whether pitching here in the States or in the KBO. Quite simply, it was a career season for the right-hander, one in which he even managed to achieve his personal goal of throwing 200 innings, something that simply is no longer common in the Majors.
It is that drive to pitch 200 innings that was a big part of what landed Kelly here at the #2 spot in this season’s reviews. While the Diamondbacks spent the majority of the season with only four starting pitchers in their five-man rotation, one of which was an aging, washed-up Madison Bumgarner and another was a marginal starting talent in Zach Davies, Kelly’s ability to not only eat innings in large chunks, but to keep his team in the game while doing so, was a godsend. Kelly’s 200.1 IP ranked first on the team by a large margin (16.1 IP over Zac Gallen). IT also ranked fifth in the National League and seventh in all of baseball, as he finished sandwiched between Shane Bieber (200 IP) and Gerrit Cole (200.2 IP). Other names on that leaderboard include Sandy Alcantara, Aaron Nola, and Framber Valdez. In short, Kelly ranked right up there among the very best starting pitchers in all of baseball when it came to carrying the load for the team.
How impressive was Kelly in 2022? In 15 of his 33 starts, he posted a Game Score of 60 or higher. He posted three more of 59. In short, he put together enough quality outings to provide the rare building of confidence that Arizona would come away with a win if he toed the mound to start the game.
Kelly’s longest outing of the season came on May6 against the Colorado Rockies, when he went 8.2 innings, tossing a season-high 106 pitches. He entered the game with a league-leading 1.22 ERA, so the measly one run he allowed in the game actually elevated his ERA to a still-stellar 1.71. Kelly struck out the first two batters of the ninth inning before allowing a pair of singles. With a three-run lead, Torey Lovullo decided that Kelly was at his limit and turned the final outs over to closer, Mark Melancon. Melancon then walked a batter to load the bases before securing the final out to give Kelly a tally in the win column.
On July 25th, Kelly faced off against the Giants at home in Phoenix. He twirled another gem. This one saw him toss eight full innings of shutout ball with seven strikeouts, no walks, and only three hits allowed. By Game Score, this was his best outing of the year. However, strong arguments can be made for a number of his other outings, including the one on May 6th.
Kelly’s kryptonite in 2022 was the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kelly started five games against the Evil Empire of the West. In those contests, Kelly went 0-5 with only 24 IP and an 8.25 ERA. However, against the rest of the NL West, Kelly accumulated 12 starts (six against the Giants) and went 6-1 with 79.2 innings pitched and an ERA of 2.60. Kelly himself was able to keep the Diamondbacks somewhat in the playoff picture into September in the hyper-competitive NL West.
Kelly was not some sort of strikeout artist. Nor was he a groundball-inducing savant. No, Kelly’s big assets were his ability to throw strikes and his endurance. Kelly’s 33 starts were tied for the most in baseball. This is a testament to just how reliable he was when it came to answering the bell. In the final analysis, that alone may end up being the true highlight of Kelly’s 2022 - his ability to take the mound every five days for a team with rotation depth issues and no serviceable relievers.
In addition to helping the team by being Merrill “The Mainstay”, Kelly helped himself as well (which of course helped the team). Kelly’s simple, fluid mechanics prevented any sort of worrying injuries and they also left him in great position to field his position.
TL/DR: Merrill Kelly entered 2022 with the expectation that he might hopefully be a quality, durable, innings-eating #3/4 pitcher. He surpassed those hopes in every way, performing well above the expected bubble and cementing himself as the team’s second-best option on the mound.
The bar has risen for Kelly. Armed with a contract extension that he signed on April Fool’s Day, Kelly enters the 2023 season as the team’s #2 arm in the rotation. The expectation will be that he performs similarly to how he did in 2022. If he is able to come close to replicating that, the Diamondbacks will be in good shape (at least on the mound) anytime Kelly is scheduled to start. In Kelly’s starts, the team will be looking more to the bullpen to bring home the victories, as Kelly was hung with a no-decision six times last season, despite allowing two or fewer runs while pitching six or more innings. Entering 2023, Kelly will stand as one of two arms that can be honestly be called a reliable MLB-caliber starting pitcher. Hopefully, his dogged demeanour and his unorthodox path to this level of success will rub off a bit on some of the youths that will be joining him in the rotation throughout the year.