Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s KC Royals Projections series for 2022. Between now and Opening Day, our writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is pitcher Brad Keller.
During his early years with the KC Royals, Bret Saberhagen seemed to alternate between good and not-so-good seasons. Now, through his first four campaigns, righthanded pitcher Brad Keller has assumed the same pattern.
If the trend holds true, Keller is due for a good season in 2022, having struggled mightily in 2021. In his 2018 rookie season, Keller posted a 9-6 record with a 3.08 ERA for the Royals after being acquired in a deal with the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason. The Reds had picked up Keller in the Rule 5 draft from Arizona.
Keller slumped to 7-14, 4.19 in 2019, but had some good peripheral numbers outside his win-loss record. The shortened 2020 season gave Keller just nine starts over which he turned in a 5-3 record with a stellar 2.47 ERA and his first (and only) career shutout.
The Texas Rangers gave Keller a rough greeting in 2021 as the 6-foot-5, 255-pound righty gave up six runs and recorded just four outs Opening Day. It wasn’t until Keller’s 10th start that his ERA dipped below 6.00, and by his 12th start he was 6-4 with a 5.50 ERA. He lost eight of his final 10 decisions and his ERA was 5.39 at season’s end.
He closed out his season with some positive efforts, however, allowing just five earned runs in his final three starts covering 17 innings with 19 strikeouts against seven walks. However, Keller was shut down after an Aug. 26 start with a right lat strain. Keller struggled throughout the season with his control, giving up a career-worst 4.3 BB9.
How Baseball Reference and FanGraphs project the KC Royals’ Brad Keller.
Baseball Reference expects Keller to improve, but still projects middle-of-the-road results with a 9-10 record and 4.44 ERA. It also predicts a save for Keller, meaning he’ll see bullpen activity for the first time since 2018.
FanGraphs (Depth Chart version) predicts nearly identical numbers, listing Keller at 10-10 with a 4.45 ERA in 28 starts.
How will pitcher Brad Keller actually perform for the KC Royals in 2022?
When Manager Mike Matheny chose Keller to start Opening Day last season, it signaled the Royals were looking for him to establish himself as a front-of-the-rotation leader. Keller’s season results, however, didn’t match up with expectations, and the bottom line is 2021 was his worst season. With the likes of Zack Greinke in the clubhouse this year, Keller and the Royals’ other young pitchers can learn from a pitcher who has been a leader and enjoyed success.
Entering his age-27 season, Keller is in a position to make his mark on the club. Learning from Greinke and being pushed by other young starters should be motivation for Keller. The Royals would probably be happy to see 12-14 wins and an ERA under 4.50 from Keller but, just as importantly, the club would like to see consistency and growth in his fifth season.
Brad Keller has been good in even-numbered years, but not as good in odd-numbered years. The Royals hope he returns to his good form in 2022.