By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Blessed with a fastball that can consistently hit triple-digits, Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly is finally living up (sort of) to the standard set by a pitcher with his kind of stuff. Kelly still walks too many guys (11 in 25.1 innings) and doesn’t strike out as many batters as you’d think (18 on the season), but he hasn’t allowed a run since the start of May and is emerging as the best Red Sox reliever not named Kimbrel.
Kelly gave another glimpse of how dazzling his fastball can be on Tuesday night against the Yankees, when he uncorked a pitch to Yankees rookie slugger Aaron Judge that appeared to be not just the fastest pitch of the 2017 season but one of the fastest pitches in major-league history.
The 2-2 fastball, which Judge managed to foul off, was originally clocked at 103 MPH on the Yankee Stadium radar gun, while the Red Sox’ radar on NESN clocked it at 104 MPH. But MLB StatCast later officially recorded it at 102.2 MPH, which tied Kelly with himself for the fastest pitch of the season.
Kelly also threw a 102.2 MPH fastball on April 28 to the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo, according to the StatCast leaderboard. If the pitch had officially been recorded at 104, it would have been one of the five fastest pitches ever recorded in the major leagues. Nolan Ryan leads the way in that department with an estimated 108.1 MPH fastball on Aug. 20, 1974, followed by Bob Feller with an estimated 107.9 MPH fastball in 1946, Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman at 105.3 in 2010, and former Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya at 104.8 in 2006.
With the 102.2 MPH fastball, Kelly barely edged out Chapman, who threw a 102.1 MPH pitch on April 13 against the Rays’ Daniel Robertson. Funnily enough, StatCast has a “Chapman filter” built into its fastest pitch leaderboard to remove the fireballer from the rankings. Chapman threw almost all of the 100 fastest pitches of the past two seasons.
It helps Kelly that Chapman hasn’t pitched since May 12 as he’s on the DL with a left shoulder injury. But in Kelly, it appears that Chapman has finally found himself a challenger.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.