Joe Kelly couldn’t sleep so he taught himself to throw a better four-seam fastball instead


(Audacy) The saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well, apparently that doesn’t apply to big league pitchers.

Entering his 12th MLB season, White Sox reliever Joe Kelly is always looking to adapt and may have a new pitch in the works for the season. Kelly has primarily been a sinkerball pitcher with a curveball and changeup, but he’s adding a basic weapon to his arsenal this season: the four-seam fastball.

Kelly joined WEEI’s Rob Bradford on the Audacy Original Podcast “Baseball Isn’t Boring” and shared the story behind teaching himself how to throw a better four-seam fastball.

“The other day, I couldn’t sleep because I think – there’s always an aha moment where you’re like, 'I think I figured something else out.' This is my 12th season going into the league, I got 11 years of service time, but I’ve never thrown a good four-seam,” Kelly said (43:01 in player above). “And I went to bed and I was like, 'I’m going to go to bed teaching myself to throw a four-seam, I promise you, and I’m not going to fall asleep until I do.'

“So my brain started turning man, fast, and I started going through mechanics. I started going through guys who throw good four-seams. I started going through guys who throw great breaking balls, also have great four-seams. The correlation is if you can spin a fastball you should be able to spin a breaking ball. But the opposite doesn’t happen. If you spin a breaking ball and you don’t spin a fastball, then there’s something wrong.”

Kelly’s fastball velocity was in the 96th percentile in 2022 but its spin rate was in the 34th percentile, according to Baseball Savant, despite his 91st-percentile spin rate on his curveball.

“So I’ve always known I’ve thrown a one-finger fastball, right, but I couldn’t find a way to throw a baseball with my arm action the way to get perfect spin or to get two fingers on it,” Kelly said. “So I went to bed and I woke up the next day finally unlocking it and I started playing catch with my catch partner Jake Diekman. And Diekman goes, ‘Holy s–t, man, your ball goes straight and it’s got some good carry,’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever.’”

Kelly may have shrugged off Diekman’s comments, but the praise kept coming when he used it in a game.

“Literally the next day was my like third spring training game and I was like, 'I’m throwing these in a game,'” he said. “I started throwing them in the game and I came out of the game and they were like, ‘Dude, you’re throwing 19 inches of vert on your four-seam at 98. Like that’s elite.’ I said, ‘What?’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, what did you do?’ and I was like like, ‘I just taught myself a four-seam in my bed last night, not even practicing, just mental.’ They’re like, ‘No way.’

“My next spring training outing, 19 inches of vert on my four-seam and I was blowing it right by guys like down the middle. I usually don’t throw fastballs down the middle by people. It’s usually a grounder because it doesn’t spin that good or it doesn’t carry that good. But now I have a four-seam fastball just because I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Kelly had a 2.86 ERA in 44 innings with the Dodgers during the 2021 season, but that ballooned up to a 6.08 ERA in 37 innings in 2022. Perhaps this new pitch can get Kelly back closer to his career 3.94 ERA or lower.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: USA Today Sports