The Kella Instinct
There goes my streak of not making a terrible pun-oriented headline here at TDG. If you are disgusted by the pun, you can leave the rest of this article behind and move on. But if you’re looking for a potential cheap closing option, you may want to continue reading.
Proven closers are perhaps the most expensive and overrated commodities in the fantasy world. Sometimes you’d have to pay a steep price for a mediocre reliever who just lacks up saves. There are only a handful of closers who hold their jobs for more than 3 years. As you may already know, picking up young, unproven relievers with dominant stuff and waiting until they get the chances to close would be a way to get lots of saves for cheap.
Keone Kela is one of those up-and-coming dominant 9th inning guys who are still sleeping. The 6’1″ flamethrower was drafted out of Everett Community College in Washington in the 12th round by the Rangers in 2012. Since then, he’s generated a preponderance of whiffs on his way to the big leagues.
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Throughout his minor league career, Kela struck out 135 and walked 50 while posting a 2.54 ERA and giving up 78 hits, including just 2 long balls in 99.1 innings. As you can see from the numbers, he has a problem finding the zone, but the ability to miss bats and keep the ball in the yard is there. The chart below, which I pulled from the amazing MLBfarm.com, shows Kela’s batted ball distribution over the past 2 years. As you can see, the high ground ball ratio helps his home run avoidance.
Let’s talk about his stuff. Here’s his average velocity chart on his arsenal, retrieved from BrooksBaseball. According to Pitch f/x, Kela throws an above-average heater. The obvious change between fall 2013 and this year is the adoption of the change up. He started throwing the offering on a regular basis this spring after showing it just twice all last season.
According to Lone Star Ball’s Michael Tepid, he uses the vulcan-style grip, and his arm speed and natural motion well with the pitch. It comes around 88 MPH and features a good fade. Last year, only 9 relievers averaged faster than 88 MPH on their change ups. Kela is throwing a little slower than that this season so far, but I expect it will go up a few ticks as the weather gets warmer.
His main secondary weapon, which everyone including himself calls it a “hard curve”, despite the fact that he grips it like a slider, has depth and a whiff ability.
After breaking camp with the Rangers, Kela has appeared in 9 games and tossed 7.2 innings. He hasn’t shown the dominance he displayed in the minors, striking out a mere 17.1% while walking a subpar 11.4% of opposing hitters. He hasn’t missed many bats either, as his 6.6 swing strike% sits near the bottom of the leaderboard among qualified relievers.
He needs to learn how to sequence, too. If you watched his outing against the Angels on Friday night, yo might’ve noticed that he worked down in the zone with the fastball less than ideally, eventually ended up allowing a critical go-ahead 2-run home run. But the Washington native just turned 22 last week, so he has plenty of room to improve in these areas.
With the shell of Neftali Feliz averaging south of 94 with his fastball and rocking an abysmal 6.00 ERA, we may see Kela taking over the closing role sooner rather than later. Even if Feliz gets back in his old form, he could be shipped at the deadline if the Rangers continue struggling.
As of this writing, Kela is owned in just 2% of CBS leagues and unowned in almost all of Yahoo and ESPN leagues, which means you need to give up nothing to acquire him. In hold leagues, he could contribute immediately, especially in AL-only ones.
Keep and eye on Keone Kela. He has the potential to be an elite closer.
Thanks to Michael Tepid for the assistance.