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Don Kelly's defense kept him in the MLB despite a weak bat

Every weekday between now and mid-November, we'll be looking closer at a Tigers player. For more information on the series, including a schedule, please check this post out.

This was a banner season in the career of Don Kelly. He not only made the big league club coming out of spring training for just the second time in his career, but he also managed to stay in the major leagues for an entire year. He had played in just 56 MLB games before, but made it into 119 of the Tigers' games in 2010.

His flexibility as an above-average infielder/outfielder meant he was an important player on the bench for the Tigers, and he even started several games at first base at the end of the season when Miguel Cabrera was injured.

Kelly had another first on April 21 when he hit his first major league home run during the backend of a double header against the Angels. That marked the first of nine for the year for the utilityman.

In many other ways though, he was a Tiger who couldn't change the stripes he'd acquired during his previous years in the minor leagues and his short stays in the majors. He struggled to get on base, and failed to hit for extra-base power when he did make contact.

Overall, Kelly was the kind of role-player that a team needs to find success during a year.


At the plate:

2010 30 119 251 238 30 58 4 0 9 27 3 0 8 42 .244 .272 .374 .646 74
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/18/2010.


Via Texas Leaguers

Don Kelly's slash line isn't all that pretty for a player who stayed in the major leagues for an entire year. A .272 on-base percentage to go with a .244 batting average? Just a .374 slugging average?

Basically, when you look at it, you see a guy who doesn't get on base and doesn't have a lot of power when he hits the ball. That's not quite fair though. Kelly showed some power, hitting nine home runs in 251 plate appearances. With four doubles in 49 non-home-run hits, he just failed to turn many of his hits that stayed in the park into the extra-base variety. This is nothing new for Kelly, just a continuation of his minor league career.

In the field:

When you look at his batting numbers, you realize Kelly must do something else pretty well to have remained in the big leagues for the entire season. As it turns out, he plays competent defense at a number of positions, both infield and outfield. This kind of flexibility gives the manager reason to keep you on the bench as a nice late-innings insurance policy.

Kelly actually rated a 13.3 UZR on Fangraphs, racking it up with 347 innings in the outfield, 158 at first base and 105 at third. Most of his time was spent in left field, where he proved to be several runs above average. That was a nice boost for the Tigers, who otherwise would have had Ryan Raburn or Johnny Damon out there.

What 2010 tells us about 2011:

I would expect him to be a little more patient at the plate, and a slight uptick in both his batting average and on-base percentage would not surprise me. Kelly will probably see a dropoff in his home-run power, as he's never had more than eight in a season before this. Given his career stats, you shouldn't expect him to magically find an extra-base stroke either during the offseason.

Kelly will remain a tweener/role-player type of player overall, I would say. There's no guarantee he will make the active roster to start the season in 2011. However, for the next handful of seasons there's always a possibility he'll return to the MLB for the same reason he was with the team this year: Flexibility, and solid field work.


I used Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs.