2020 KC Royals season preview: Brad Keller

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images /

Brad Keller, the KC Royals’ best starting pitcher, didn’t quite live up to his “Stellar Keller” nickname in 2019. Will he regain that form in 2020?

Welcome to the continuation of Kings of Kauffman‘s 2020 KC Royals season previews. Leading up to spring training, we’ll be breaking down 30 different Royals. Our analysis will include what they accomplished last season, what to expect this season, along with any other information pertinent to the player. Today’s subject: Brad Keller.

Keller quickly earned the nickname “Stellar Keller” for the work he did in his rookie season. In 2018, the right-hander went 9-6 while spinning an impressive 3.08 ERA. He was one of the best first-year pitchers in the majors and as a former Rule 5 draft pick, he exceeded expectations and created a ton of buzz as 2019 approached.

What did he offer last season?

Instead of building on his rookie season and taking charge atop the KC Royals’ rotation, Keller’s level of production took a hit in 2019. He lost twice as many games as he won (7-14 record) and his ERA fell to 4.19. While he was able to strike out more hitters per nine innings (6.6 K/9 compared to 6.2 in 2018), it came with an increase in walk rate (3.8 BB/9, 3.2 the year prior).

Keller’s play improved in the second half of the season, though. His ERA over that span was a healthy 3.62, he struck out 7.4 hitters per nine innings and his K/BB ratio was 3. Unfortunately, arm fatigue ended his season early and he was cut off at 165.1 innings on the year.

If you remove Keller’s final start of the year, a 1.1-inning performance vs. Oakland in which he gave up five earned runs, Keller’s ERA for the season would’ve been 3.95. The terrible run support Keller received (or didn’t receive, in this case) also doesn’t help things, as a 7-14 record is tricky to defend.

What should we expect in 2020?

Here are two stat line projections for Keller’s 2020 season, courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs:

B-Ref: 8-9 record,148 IP, 3.95 ERA, 7.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
FG: 9-12 record, 182 IP, 4.74 ERA, 6.77 K/9, 3.81 BB/9

You don’t see this all too often, but these two projection systems differ quite a bit in regards to how Keller will fare this season. I definitely agree more with B-Ref, but I think the innings will be closer to 160 or 170 as opposed to just under 150. Keller’s torrid nine-game stretch from July until the second-to-last start in August of last year gives me more than enough hope for a very solid 2020.

The verdict

Health should be one of the few concerns right now regarding Brad Keller. He is never going to strike out a ton of hitters, and his walk rate may always be a bit high. With that said, if he can control his pitches better this season and withstand a full slate of games, he should re-establish himself as an exciting young pitcher. Consistency comes with time and as Keller enters year three with the Royals, he should only improve.

Next. USA Today predicts a 65-97 record for the KC Royals in 2020. dark

What do you think, Royals fans? Will “Stellar Keller” make a return in 2020, or will he take a step back?