5 Things to Know About Merrill Kelly — In His Own Words

Merrill Kelly explains what’s going on with his changeup.

When a team has a player who is a Cy Young contender, it’s only logical that they will draw most of the attention — and this year for the Arizona Diamondbacks, that pitcher is Zac Gallen. But it’s important not to overlook the contributions of his fellow starter Merrill Kelly, who is having himself a pretty fine season as well.

Currently, Kelly has a 3.22 ERA and a 3.76 FIP in 148.1 IP. He’s worth 2.8 fWAR, which ranks 23rd in the MLB — and that’s not bad.

During the D-backs’ recent series in Colorado, Kelly shared his thoughts on a number of topics, including what’s going on with his four-seamer as well as his feelings about the pitch clock.


1. Yes, his four-seamer is more effective


To provide some context, over the last few years, Kelly’s four-seamer has jumped from a low 8% SwStr% to 11% last year and now 13% rate in 2023. He doesn’t see this as the result of an improved fastball.

”I would think just the development in my secondary stuff,” Kelly said.

“The cutter’s come a long way. The slider right now has gotten a lot better the last couple of weeks, and the changeup over the last couple of years has been — in my opinion — back to where it used to be. So I would imagine the fact that the hitters have to honor all the off-speed pitches and the ability to throw them for strikes just makes the decent fastball that I have play a little bit better than it probably should.”

Here he is against the Cincinnati Reds when he earned a career-best 12 Ks:

The changes he’s made are working.


2. So, about his changeup . . . 


Kelly’s changeup has taken another leap in 2023, earning more whiffs and inducing the fifth-highest chase rate on changeups in MLB. So what’s changed?

“Nothing honestly,” Kelly said.

Actually, it’s about getting comfortable with recent adjustments he’s made to his changeup grip.

“Leading up to 2019, I threw a certain grip,” Kelly said, “and then in ’19, that grip kind of just decided to go away and not work anymore. So I kind of went on an exploration the next couple years to find the grip that was consistent and got the action that I’m used to seeing out of what the changeup in my mind should be.”

Finally, Kelly found what he was looking for.

“I found that grip last year, I think,” Kelly said, “and I think maybe over the last couple of years, the more consistency of throwing it has made it better and better and probably led to have more confidence in throwing it in big counts. And that could be probably one of the reasons why you might see some more swing and miss on it.”

At this point, it’s clear that the adjustments Kelly made are working.


3. His feelings about pitching at
Coors Field are, well, complicated


“I don’t mind it,” Kelly said. “The breaking balls are a little shorter than they are at home, just got to concentrate on getting them a little further down in the zone than what you’re used to. But I’ve never really seen my stuff act too much differently here.”

Even though Coors Field and Chase Field have the highest elevations of all MLB parks, Kelly sees them as very different pitching environments.

“I think the elevation changes a lot of things,” he said. “Like I said, the breaking balls don’t act the same. Sometimes I notice on my sinker, it doesn’t have as much sink as it does at home. But I think the pitch shapes take a unique shape up here compared to the rest of the league.”

But he doesn’t hold the pitching environment against Coors itself.

“And as far as the ballpark goes,” Kelly said, “this is probably one of my favorite ballparks in the league in general. So I always enjoy playing here, and I definitely enjoy watching the game here for sure.”

But he was clear to differentiate between pitching at Coors Field and watching at Coors Field.

“One of my favorite places to play, not necessarily to pitch,” he said. “There’s definitely a big difference.”

Still, in his most recent Coors Field outing, Kelly appeared to have tamed the beast.

Not bad.


4. He likes the pitch clock —
but has some suggestions 


As MLB approaches the end of its first season with the pitch clock, a bit of assessment is in order. Overall, Kelly likes the pitch clock.

“I definitely think it helps the game,” Kelly said. “I think it speeds things up. I think there’s a nice rhythm to it.”

But he’d like to make a recommendation.

“I think there could be a little bit more wiggle room in certain situations, especially because in my mind, there’s a bunch of advantages for the hitter.”

Kelly explained: “They have a built-in timeout every at-bat where they can choose to take it whenever they want.”

He thinks pitchers should have something to even out that power relationship.

“I think maybe the pitchers should be considered in that type of thing, especially with nobody on,” Kelly said.

“Nobody on for me is the biggest detriment to pitchers just because we have pretty much zero wriggle room — we can’t step off when the clock stops like the hitters can step off, and it stops.”

He added: “I think the pitcher should have a certain timeout, maybe not once an at-bat, but maybe once an inning if the game starts speeding up a little bit, and there’s some action on the bases, and some big-time situations or big-time pitches, I think that we should be afforded the same liberties as the hitters.”

Kelly’s logic makes sense.

“Most times, that I see hitters take their timeouts right now are when they get to two strikes,” Kelly said. “And for us, I think that’s not necessarily right because if I get someone to two strikes, I want to go for the kill shot right then and there. The fact that they’re allowed to step out and take their time and regroup before the biggest pitch of the bat, and we don’t have that same luxury if things are going sideways for us, for me would probably be the biggest tweak.”

Still, he likes the pitch clock.

“Overall, I thought I was gonna not like it but it’s really grown on me. I really enjoy it.”


5. He doesn’t like the red jerseys


Allow me to add a bit of context.

I was in the D-backs’ clubhouse for these interviews in the days immediately following their 25th-anniversary series when the team had worn their purple-and-teal throwback uniforms. Gallen had just conducted a Twitter poll on the topic, which got more than 14,000 supportive votes. In short, this was a hot topic in the clubhouse, and the players were overwhelmingly in favor of adopting the retro uniforms.

Kelly, though, had some reservations.

I asked him about the retro uniforms immediately after speaking to Gallen, who was across the clubhouse grinning as Kelly gave his answer. At one point, Kelly looked at his teammate, laughed, and said, “This guy,” nodding his head in Gallen’s direction, “smirking at me.” (Which, in fairness, he was.)

Kelly’s answer to the question was long and thoughtful. (If there’s anything I’ve learned in the course of talking to players about uniforms, it’s that they give them a lot of thought.) He was not backing down as a voice of resistance: He didn’t like the fabric (though he’d rethink his position if the uniforms were made in a different material), and he wasn’t wild about purple.

But he was clear on one thing: He really doesn’t like the D-backs’ red jerseys.

“For me,” Kelly explained, “I see them as spring training unis because that’s all we wear during spring training. It’d be different, I think if we mixed it up during spring training, but every day in spring training, it’s the reds. So I think I just associate them as more of a practice jersey because we use them at Salt River in the spring.”

He continued, “I’ve told our team this. I’ve told the front office that I think that the reds should be left in Salt River when we leave.”

Kelly is open to other uniform combinations — and even adopting the retro uniforms if it means jettisoning the red jerseys.

This anecdote, I think, explains a lot about Kelly, his relationship with Gallen, and the atmosphere of the entire D-backs’ clubhouse.

Keep an eye on the D-backs. They are a team to watch — and not just because of the retro uniforms.


Read “8 Things to Know About Zac Gallen — In His Own Words” here

Renee Dechert

Renee Dechert writes about baseball and fandom, often with a focus on the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. (She's also an English professor, but the baseball is more interesting.) Follow her on Twitter (@ReneeDechert) or Bluesky (@ReneeDechert.com).

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