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2023 SnakePit Awards: Pitcher of the Year - Merrill Kelly

Consistent goodness > intermittent brilliance, it appears

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World Series - Texas Rangers v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Four Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

That’s now four years in a row that either Zac Gallen or Merrill Kelly have won our Pitcher of the Year award. But there still hasn’t been a consecutive winner since Brandon Webb in 2007-08. This strict alternation continued this season, Kelly getting 63% of the votes, while Gallen received 20%. It’s likely testament to the consistency Merrill showed over the length of the entire season, as well as a better performance in the playoffs. While their overall ERAs were quite close (Kelly 3.29 vs. Gallen 3.47), Kelly’s ERA never reached 3.50 at any point, and his worst month barely scraped above four (4.02). Gallen had two months, July and September, which were worse than that.

You can also see this consistency in Game Score. Both men had an average across the year of 57. But Gallen had six bad outings which came in less than 40 - that’s twice as many as Kelly. But he also had almost twice as many very good outings, scoring at 70 or above (nine vs. five). By FIP, their positions were reversed, with Gallen’s 3.26 clearly better than Kelly’s figure of 3.85. This was mostly down to Zac having a better K:BB ratio of 4.68, almost two entire points better than Merrill. Interesting, both men pitched much better at home than on the road. Gallen’s record there has been well documented, but even Kelly had a significant split in ERA: 2.59 in Chase, compared to 4.07 elsewhere.

Their postseason performance are perhaps what clinched the award for Kelly. Here’s how they stacked up against each other in the playoffs:
Merrill Kelly: 4 GS, 3-1, 2.25 ERA, 24 IP, 12 H, 6 ER, 8 BB, 28 SO
Zac Gallen: 6 GS, 2-3, 4.54 ERA, 33.2 IP, 31 H, 17 ER. 14 BB, 24 SO
There’s a case to be made that the team might have done better with Kelly as the “#1” starter. Perhaps he was simply less fatigued: in the regular season, he faced 124 fewer batters than Gallen. This was largely because Merrill missed time around the All-Star break, due to a blood clot in his lower right leg.

Fortunately, this clot proved a less serious ailment than the one in his shoulder which eventually required surgery and ended his 2020 season. Here, he did have to miss a month, but you’d be hard pushed to look at his numbers before and after, and tell much difference. The downtime may have ended up being a blessing, considering he finished the season much stronger than Gallen. Over his final ten starts, combining the regular and post-season, Kelly had a 2.83 ERA. Over Gallen’s last ten outings, again including the playoffs, his ERA was 4.66. That period covers when the team was fighting for a wild-card spot, and on into the post-season: it was Kelly who stepped up when the team needed him most.

ish95 will be writing a full review of Kelly early in the new year, so I don’t want to tread on his toes too much. But I do want to highlight Merrill’s best performance of the year. That came on August 24 against the Reds at Chase Field. Kelly fired seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and no walks, while striking out a career high 12 batters. He could probably have gone deeper - he was at 86 pitches, and struck out the side in the seventh. But he had to depart leave the game after cramping up, the second time in August that had happened. He left with Arizona holding a 1-0 advantage, but ended up with an undeserved no-decision, as the lead lasting precisely one batter faced by the bullpen.

Indeed, he likely deserved a better record than 12-8. Over the ten no-decisions, the D-backs scored a total of 28 runs, and never more than four in a game. Kelly’s ERA over those starts was a paltry 2.35 - hardly any higher than the 2.11 he posted in his dozen wins. There is perhaps even a case to be made that it’s Kelly, rather than Gallen, who gets the honor of starting Opening Day against the Rockies on March 28 next year. On the basis of what he did in big games this year, it’s a pretty good argument.


Who should start Opening Day 2024?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Zac Gallen
    (33 votes)
  • 50%
    Merrill Kelly
    (33 votes)
66 votes total Vote Now

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