2014 Player Previews: UT Don Kelly

Is Kelly really a hindrance to the club?

Love him or hate him, Don Kelly is likely to be back on the 25-man roster in 2014 as the team's utility player, backing up around the outfield and likely at third base. Is Kelly really the drain on team performance that some fans claim? Not really.

Don Kelly 2013 In Review

2013 Stats
Washington 251 0.0 .222 .226 .269 .309 .343 .292 11% 2/0 -6 -4

The 2013 campaign for Don Kelly was one in which he showed versatility, getting in playing time at six different positions, while posting below average offensive splits. The big drain on his offensive performance was his batting average, which checked in at just .222. His walk rate was nearly 11%, and his ISO was 0.12, not starter's material, but not horrid by any stretch of the imagination.

The average, despite being low, was actually nearly a 40 point boost from the prior year when he was below the Mendoza line, hitting just .186. His BAbip was low, much lower than his expected rate by almost 50 points, but still relatively in line with his career average of .245.

Kelly can be a plus baserunner, with an above average baserunning score each of the last two seasons. He also swiped two bases without being caught, making him a good fit for pinch running situations.

The real question on Kelly comes down to his defense. While being heralded for his versatility, his defensive ratings across the board last year were poor – he scored negative in defensive runs saved at all three outfield positions, while grading out even around the infield (and slightly positive at third base).

Overall, Kelly netted out to be exactly a replacement level player – not doing any harm, but not doing any good, either. His overall value in that sense then comes down to his versatility, which allows for managerial flexibility.

2014 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 236 0.4 .243 .262 .312 .367 .302 -1
Steamer 243 0.2 .245 .269 .314 .364 .302 -2
Oliver 600 -0.1 .233 .257 .307 .340 .290 -6

Projections for Kelly mostly peg him to be largely the same player he was in 2013, with a WAR right around zero, though two of the three think he'll be slightly positive, likely given more favorable matchups on 250 plate appearances as opposed to the 600 that the Oliver projections assume for all players.

All three expect an uptick in his batting average with a more closer to the norm average on balls in play. Given his expected average on balls in play in 2013, that seems reasonable, even though his career BAbip is much lower. The difference is big though, as a stronger average on balls in play suddenly takes him from being largely a negative at the plate to a player with a wOBA over .300 – still not great, but much closer to the level you'd like to see, especially for a backup corner outfielder.

Defensively the grades are all negative, and given his focused time in the outfield, and the likely continuation of that in 2014, is a reasonable projection. The one outlier could be if he starts to see more time at third base to give Nick Castellanos more rest, also a reasonable expectation given the team will likely be more conservative with the soon-to-be 22-year old rookie.

Overall, Kelly projects to be a slightly better version of the 2013 version of himself. That won't thrill many fans, who would always prefer more pop and more speed or more something off the bench, but the value in his versatility does hold merit, especially when dealing with a limited bench where you already have a full-time designated hitter and two players platooning for one spot in left field.

2014 Projections come from three different sources; ZiPS, Steamer, and Oliver, all publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers, and Oliver Projections from Brian Cartwright.

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