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Brad Keller was on point in his first major league start

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Whiffs, whiffs, whiffs.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In a season filled with more downs than ups for the Royals, Rule 5 acquisition Brad Keller has been one of the few pleasantly surprising outcomes for this team, pitching to the tune of a 2.01 ERA in 22.1 innings as a reliever. Out of a Royals bullpen that has been filled with bad this season, Keller has been one of the better relievers on this team, all while making the jump from AA to the major leagues as a 22-year-old.

This success in the bullpen earned Keller a look as a starting pitcher, a role he pitched in throughout his whole minor league career (106 career minor league games, 100 starts). When the Royals acquired Keller last December in the Rule 5 Draft, this was likely the role the viewed for him long-term, had everything work out. Circumstances happened though, and two months into his major league career, Keller was getting his first start.

After learning the profile on Keller, watching him pitch well in Spring Training, and watching him have success early in the year out of the bullpen as one of the younger players in all of Major League Baseball, my hopes for Keller turning into an above-average reliever in the majors were starting to develop. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bullish on him (as a reliever). But with the recent DL trip for Eric Skoglund, we soon learned that Keller was going to be joining the rotation. My initial reaction was nothing near being thrilled (Oaks and Barlow were other options that I liked). This was a guy that posted a 4.58 ERA and minuscule 9.3 K-BB% (which ranked 45th out of 66 qualified AA pitchers last year) in AA last year as a starter. Also putting in the velocity decrease that comes with moving to the starting rotation into consideration, my expectations were limited.

Watching Keller’s start on Wednesday night eased some of those worries for me though. In that three inning, 51 pitch stint (a season high), Keller looked as good as I’ve ever seen him. And it all started in the first inning on a strikeout of Miguel Sano, when he threw quite possibly the best pitch I’ve seen thrown by a Royal this season.

That’s a 95 MPH two-seam fastball with movement that couldn’t have been located much better. I mean...

And then I’ll just add this one in there for good measure.

Keller ended up inducing five swinging strikes with that very same two-seamer out of the 13 total he threw. Looking at that, I noticed that seemed like a very high rate for a single pitch for a starter, so I did some research.

The 38.5% SwStr% Keller had on his two-seamer Wednesday night ended up being the highest SwStr% on a two-seamer by any starting pitcher in a game this year (minimum ten thrown) and it wasn’t even close.

Top Ten SwStr% on Two-Seamers

Player Name Total Pitches SwStr SwStr%
Player Name Total Pitches SwStr SwStr%
Brad Keller 13 5 38.5
Charlie Morton 16 5 31.3
Jordan Lyles 11 3 27.3
Zack Wheeler 11 3 27.3
Eduardo Rodriguez 15 4 26.7
James Shields 19 5 26.3
John Gant 38 10 26.3
Chris Sale 16 4 25
Lucas Giolito 12 3 25
Charlie Morton 27 6 22.2

With decent velocity and good location, the two-seam fastball has been a staple for Keller all year, allowing a .276 wOBA on the pitch all year. And how this pitch develops will be something I’ll be watching in the next few starts. For a player that predominately uses a four-seamer (and uses it well), complimenting it with a good two-seamer and useful secondary pitches sets up a deep repertoire for a starter. Now we just see how he reacts with deeper pitch counts and more innings.