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Red Sox should make Joe Kelly into Alfredo Aceves

This will require some explanation.

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Joe Kelly can start in the majors. He's done well enough in the role before while on the Cardinals, and while the more hitter-friendly Fenway Park and American League could put a dent in that, it's probably not enough to make Kelly pointless as a starting pitcher. He's definitely someone the Red Sox can upgrade on, though, and you could argue that they should upgrade on him. There is a role that's just perfect for him, especially with this rotation the Sox have, and it's one they are familiar with. The Sox should make Kelly into their new Alfredo Aceves.

Your memories of Aceves probably aren't fond, but that's because he was a failed closer and supposed clubhouse problem for both Bobby Valentine and John Farrell -- yes, Aceves even made you feel kind of sympathetic towards Bobby V, and that was before we decided that Aceves as a Cthulhu-esque old god was canon. Before that, however, he was one of the most important pitchers on the team. In 2011, he threw 114 innings, with 93 of those coming in relief, and was worth nearly three wins above replacement in the process. He was a spot starter, a long reliever, a garbage time reliever, a setup man -- he was everything and anything the Red Sox needed him to be when they needed it, and he's one of the major reasons they almost made it to the playoffs despite only having two major-league caliber starters on the roster in the second half of the season.

Before Aceves decided to throw 95 miles per hour and up without any command of his fastball as a closer -- no, really, Aceves felt that closers should throw hard even though he couldn't command his fastball at those speeds -- he was capable of hitting his spots low in the zone, efficiently inducing grounders while keeping the ball in the park while living in the low 90s. It not allowed him to be effective despite not having devastating stuff, but also made it so that he could throw quite a few pitches per outing and be used often -- you don't rack up 93 innings of relief accidentally or without some skill, especially not in today's specialist-centric game. Joe Kelly is a ground ball specialist who has been a swingman for much of his career. His fastball command is equal to that of 2011-era Aceves, and he's even more capable of inducing grounders. He's never thrown a full season of innings outside of a combined effort between the minors and majors in 2012 that resulted in just under 180 frames, and innings in the minors are not the same as innings in the majors. Kelly might be a useful starter, but he might have more value sticking in that swingman role and turning it up to 11, a la Aceves.

Photo credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly has found success out of the bullpen before, and actually misses bats in the role, with 8.4 strikeouts per nine in relief against 5.6 as a starter. If he's throwing a ton of innings, that punch outs number is going to shrink, but that's fine given his grounder tendencies. If he has the ability to start, he can certainly throw long relief innings, spot start when necessary, or come in relief multiple times per week to log what is essentially a starter's workload just like Aceves used to. He's also capable of being the right-handed relief presence the Red Sox are hoping for during later parts of the game, and would be built-in insurance on the roster for injuries or to make up for the potential ineffectiveness of someone like Clay Buchholz or Justin Masterson, two pitchers with histories as erratic as they are productive.

With it unclear whether Buchholz is going to be the pitcher who can give them 6-7 innings each time out or the one who limps to the fifth, with it unknown whether Masterson is going to be the guy who finally figured out lefties or the one who can throw a whole lot of innings but few of them good ones, having Kelly around to eat up however many innings of relief he's needed for would be a significant thing. Boston's bullpen has strengths in the back, as Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara are still there, but most of the rest of it is a question mark. Kelly could be a stabilizing presence for both the rotation and the bullpen this way, much like Aceves was in 2011.

There are obvious problems here, of course, or at least one major one. Kelly might be well-suited to this gig, one he's basically been practicing for in his swingman career up to this point, but the Red Sox don't have a better option for the fifth spot in the rotation right now. Pitchers like Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo are sure to get starts in spring training to vie for it, but they probably aren't better options than Kelly, either in the rotation or the pen. The remaining free agent starters are not inspiring matches, either, save James Shields, who does not seem likely to come to Boston at this point. So, Kelly will probably end up starting to begin 2015, and unless the likes of Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez push the issue or the Sox make an in-season trade, he'll still be starting when it ends, too.

The idea is still a good one, though, and Kelly is maybe not the only pitcher who can live it. Free agent Alexi Ogando has spent even more time splitting his games between the rotation and bullpen, and the Sox have been linked to him this winter. Maybe he's the right-handed reliever they're looking for as well as the rotation depth they'd like, the guy who can play the role of 2011 Aceves for the Sox while Kelly tries to prove he's deserving of something a little more structured. Either of these pitchers are a fine choice for the role: the real key is getting someone into it, and then utilizing them the same way Aceves was handled in his hugely valuable and still-underrated 2011.