“Ty” is a good name for a baseball player. Baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb, for example—American League Batting Title winner for twelve straight years from 1907-1919, and still holding the all-time record for career batting average at .366. Ty Wigginton, hitting .302/.354/.526 in his first year in the majors, as a Met, and a 2010 All-Star.
And now the recent Mets’ call up…Ty Kelly? Yeah yeah—I know it’s a stretch. But a girl can wish for a bit of nameology, right? (Apparently it’s a thing; look it up.)
After Ty Kelly got his first major league hit, my grandma called, excited. “Did you see that baby get his hit yesterday? They saved the ball for him—it was so nice.”
My grandmother, who spent a good part of the Mets’ inaugural season in front of the television very pregnant with my father, loves “her Mets,” so now Kelly is no exception. And while the long-time minor leaguer is on the wrong side of “baby” for a pro-ball player, the 27-year-old utility man is still younger than a few of her grandchildren (myself included), so one can see why he looks like a rookie to her.
The responses to Ty Kelly’s call-up from fans who aren’t my grandmother has been less enthusiastic, perhaps because he’s been in the minors for so long, or because his presence at Citi Field is the result of injuries in great players (and fan favorites) Lucas Duda and David Wright. And while I also don’t find it likely that Kelly will bust through his uniform and suddenly reveal himself to be an X-Man, I can’t help but feel a little more optimistic about him than many of my fellow fans—I don’t know; maybe it’s genetic.
Before he was called up at the end of May, Kelly was hitting .391/.471/.548 in Vegas, the minor league leader in both batting average and on-base percentage. For the rest of the season, PECOTA projections have him with a True Average of .264, a considerable downgrade, of course, but also better than Flores, Campbell or even my one true love Granderson are batting right now (though Grandy’s going to turn it all around with the brute force of my love—I just know it), and their True Average predictions for the 2016 season are just about even with Kelly’s, at .261, .265, and .274, respectively.
Kelly made his major league debut in DC on 24 May against a formidable Strasburg, who is currently 9-0. For his part Kelly walked and struck out over four plate appearances, though he mentioned with pride the ground-ball-called-error when interviewed after. It was no superstar performance, but he didn’t freeze and go down looking the way many do against Strasburg, first major league outing or not.
(An interesting side note: Kelly and Strasburg have faced one another before, both in college and in the minors, when Strasburg was doing rehab. They also share a birthday.)
Kelly got his first major league hit a few days later off pitcher Jose Quintana, currently seventh on the American League ERA leaderboard. And though Ty Kelly’s eight major league game appearances provide us with a small sample size, his ability to make contact with pitches from league leaders, alongside his two walks thus far, confirm what we’ve seen in his minor league performance—he has a discerning eye and knows when to wait for a pitch. During his Double-A and Triple-A career (from 2012-2015), Kelly had an O-Swing % of 10.7. For comparison, Joey Votto led the majors in O-Swing 2015 with an 18.4; Votto also led the league in walks, and came second behind Bryce Harper in OBP. Kelly’s low swing rate translates similarly, to a career walk percentage of 13.8 and an on-base percentage higher than one might expect from a player with his slugging and batting averages.
Kelly also offers the Mets a degree of flexibility that may come in handy if and when our main men return from the DL. A benefit to his many minor league seasons means he’s been able to train and play at different roles in a lower stakes environment—over the years he’s played everywhere but catcher. I know there is something pleasant about a steady team, and of course the cohesion that results from many hours spent in sync with the same players is advantageous, but with Duda, Wright, and d’Arnaud DL-ed already, and the fate of Juan Lagares and his thumb in question, it’s safe to say that ship has sailed. Kelly’s fielding versatility combined with his being a switch hitter are skills the shape-shifting team, or those Mets fans given to conniptions whenever Conforto comes within a thousand feet of a left-handed pitcher, might find valuable.
Do the Mets currently have the infield they need to support their star pitching staff if they want a chance at a successful postseason? Not exactly. But am I pining away for Daniel Murphy? No, and a big old no. Kelly’s not a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination. But he gets on base, and whether he does it with his eye or his bat is really no matter when the run comes in.
And then there’s this: I know a player’s personality theoretically doesn’t matter as long as he performs on the field, but I still can’t shake the feeling that as America’s Favorite Pastime, with sportsmen and women still making up the majority of children’s role models, it does. And Ty Kelly, lover of music and tweeter of silly jokes, remaining thoroughly unentitled and shoulder-chipless regarding his long run in the minors, seems like a genuinely nice guy.
“I never really wondered why I wasn’t getting moved up,” Kelly told the Times after his debut. “It’s great to play well and put up decent numbers. But for someone that’s not a big-time prospect to get moved up, you’ve got to beat everybody.” This year it seems Kelly’s patience, at the plate and otherwise, has paid off. And as much as it stinks to see the captain sidelined, if Mets fans can’t rally behind an underdog-makes-good story, who can?
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports