Kansas City Royals: Analyzing Brad Keller’s first full season as a starter

KC Royals, Brad Keller, 2020 Rotation Predictions (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
KC Royals, Brad Keller, 2020 Rotation Predictions (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Brad Keller was solely used as a starter for the Kansas City Royals in 2019. A closer look at his numbers indicates that he was very good.

After making 20 starts for the Kansas City Royals last season, Brad Keller more than earned his shot to permanently lock down a spot in the rotation. In 2018, Keller had a 3.28 ERA while tossing 118.0 innings and striking out 83 batters. He struggled with his command as he allowed 43 free passes. Still, he managed to dance his way around them while allowing opponents to barrel up just 4.6 percent of the time with an average exit velocity of 87.5 mph and a 6.7-degree launch angle.

It’s safe to say it was only fair to see what he could do over the course of a full season. The 24-year old made 28 starts for the Royals this season and spun a 4.19 ERA in 165.1 innings of work. Along the way, he managed to strike out 122 batters but his command continued to be an issue as he allowed 70 walks.

"“Yeah, I think that’s what hurt me the most this year was walking so many guys”, Keller recently told me. “I felt like I kept putting myself in trouble. But I think the key is to stay on the attack. When I was going after guys in the second half, I felt like I limited a lot more walks.”"

A closer look at his pitch usage revealed he used a healthy mix of his fastball, slider, and sinker. His fastball sits on average at 94 mph with a 2295 RPM spin rate and produced a 19 percent whiff rate. Opponents were able to do most of their damage off Keller’s fastball as he allowed them to bat 0.260 with 7 doubles, 7 triples, and 5 home runs. He did strike out 50 with this pitch, though.

However, his bread and butter this season was his magnificent slider. With a ridiculous 2510 RPM spin rate and 30 percent whiff rate, opponents hit just 0.194 off Keller’s slider and displayed terrific command of it as well. Statcast indicates that his slider had 6.5 more inches of drop – or 17 percent more – than the league average. Asked if this pitch has always come naturally to him:

"“Actually, it took some time to develop the slider. I felt like some adjustments I made with it this year really helped it out with depth and location. But with Cal (Eldred), we made quite a bit of adjustments with it.”"

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The one pitch he’ll need to continue to develop in the offseason and into Spring Training is his changeup. Keller only utilized this pitch 1.4 percent of the time, which equated to 38 pitches. It’s a small sample size to determine a full analysis but regardless, opponents were able to hit 0.250 off his changeup and with an average launch angle of 33 degrees. Surprisingly, he allowed just 1 home run off this pitch but Keller himself stated that another pitch would only make him better.

"“Yeah, working on the change-up is a continuous process. I think it’ll be a huge benefit to my repertoire. Just another wrinkle I can throw at them and get them off of my fastball.”"

He was going to be limited to 180.0 innings this season but after lasting just 1.1 innings and allowing 5 earned runs in his start on August 26, the Royals decided it was best to shut him down given the team’s record and the point in the season.

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Keller will be one of the few that is guaranteed a spot on this pitching staff next season and he’ll be expected to take the next step. Hopefully, the Kansas City Royals can start to surround Keller with other quality starting pitchers this offseason.