TDG’s Triple Play: Kansas City Royals!
Your senior dynasty analysts enter the second season of the Triple Play! The regular feature breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Brad Keller, 23, SP
Analysis by: Adam Lawler
Brad Keller was drafted out of high school by the Arizona Diamondbacks in in the 8th round of 2013 MLB draft. Fun fact- he was drafted just ahead of Keaton’s boy Trey Mancini. Keller piqued my interest during his run in 2018 for reasons I’ll get into soon. I pegged him as an under the radar arm that could potentially bolster a roster with a healthy amount of innings and a tolerable ERA/WHIP. He seemed perfectly suited to be the underwhelming, low-K arm who seems to control the batter with a heavy dose of groundballs and double plays.
I am a sucker for these types. The Mike Leakes and Trevor Cahills of the world. The bad version of Dallas Keuchel.
I was optimistic in tagging him as an SP4 in most of my 16 team leagues. Mistakes were made. This, as we like to call around these parts, is probably my saddest lap of the year. Enjoy.
After being selected in the Rule 5 draft by Cincinnati and immediately traded to Kansas City, Keller found himself on the right side of a bad situation. An injury decimated and overall bad rotation gave Keller an immediate opening to show what he could do. Holy Toledo did he prove something too.
Keller’s success, as mentioned previously, largely hinged on a high ground ball rate, second best in the major leagues for pitchers with a minimum of 140 innings. The worm-burning method allowed Keller to post a 2 win season over to the tune of a 3 ERA over 140 innings. He kept the ball in the park with the best of them, being only beaten out by Jacob deGrom. He wriggled his way out of jams, cultivating a superb 22% conversion rate on opportunities where a double play was possible.
The underlying metrics were rather mixed however: 3.55 FIP, 4.26 xFIP, 4.51 SIERA, 4.87 DRA. A paltry K/9 rate of 6.2 was slightly better than vomit inducing names like Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb. Underscoring the razor-thin margin Keller was operating under? A 7.9% K-BB which was 4thworst in the majors.
Pitchers can succeed in this type of high wire act though. A high BABIP would be reason enough for the metrics to scoff at Keller. More to the point, Keller proved he could tunnel pitches with the best of them. For those of you unacquainted with pitch tunneling here’s the ELI5: If you can repeatedly display the same arm angle, motion, and release point – no matter the pitch – the more deceptive your pitchers are to the batter. The more deceptive you are, the easier time you’ll have getting by with your stuff.
Now, let’s acknowledge that Brad Keller has limited stuff. The slider is pretty good and sharp. It’s the thing that’s buoyed Keller to this point in his career. It will carry him for another 2 or 3 seasons at least. The four-seamer, while fine, is only as good as the deception his tunneling provides since it’s as straight as an arrow and relies highly on location.
For everything intriguing and bright about last year’s version of Brad Keller, this is the exact opposite. Meanwhile, he’s kept a lot of the bad stuff. While he’s managed to keep the ball on the ground and therefore in the yard, the regression monster has come to eat his BABIP. The real bugaboo for Keller, however, is the massive spike in his walk rate which currently sits at 14.3% (up from 8.6% a year ago). That’s worst in baseball. Yes, worse than Robbie Ray. Again, if we peek at the pitch tunneling, it seems as if his pitch arsenal has fallen apart quite a bit over the last couple of months.
|Release Distance||Pre-Tunnel Max Time||Flight Time Differential|
Always B Klosing
Again, I am going to refer you back to Baseball Prospectus to read up on pitch tunneling, but here’s the quick and dirty. Keller – as previously mentioned – was operating on a razor-thin margin that could have improved just as much as it could have fallen off. The most damning piece of evidence surrounding Keller’s struggles revolves around the “release distance” metric. This stat will indicate the true distance between consecutive pitches. Among qualified pitchers, the average is 2.2 and Keller is bottom of the barrel.
In the end, Keller is 23 and can grow into something serviceable. Right now, we’re a long way from that materializing.
Adalberto Mondesi, 23 2B/SS
Analysis by: Patrick Magnus
I am not the world’s biggest Mondesi fan, but at this point, there’s no denying how valuable an asset he’s become in dynasty baseball. At the age of 23, equipped with blazing speed, and just enough pop to contribute, Mondesi is all about providing speed and power counting stats. Of particular note is his speed. A skill that is drying up in baseball, but Mondesi has the ability to perhaps lead the league in stolen bases. Sure there are holes in his game, but it’s the sum of the parts here that make a fantasy monster.
2018: Power and a Ton of Speed: Get Hyped!
Last season Mondesi had his coming out party. Slashing .276/.308/.498, collecting 14 homers, and stealing 32 bases in 291 at-bats. Those numbers are impressive as a season total, but the fantasy industry began to salivate over the thought of a whole season of Mondesi’s production. Could we be looking at a player who produces 20+ homers, and 50+ stolen bases? The answer is probably not, but we could get something close.
The biggest concern for myself and other analysts who were skeptical of Mondesi came from his plate discipline. In 2018 Mondesi walked at a mere 3.8% and struck out at a clip of 26.5%. Resulting in a less than stellar .306 OBP. If you’re going to steal bases… Well, you need to get on base. The quality of contact was hard for me to believe as well. While he barreled up a solid 10.4% of pitches, his exit velocity sat around league average, and his launch angle was barely above 11. My fears, as we’ll discuss, were unwarranted.
The Year Has Changed, but Mondesi Hasn’t
Thus far in 2019, Mondesi is picking right where he left off. He’s even increased his barrel%, stolen a league-leading 17 bases, increased his BB% by 2.2%, and popped off 5 homers. The dude has been on fire to begin the year, making those of us who were skeptical feel pretty damn stupid. However, he likely won’t continue his current pace of counting stats, as his xSLGing and xWOBA both indicate that he’s been overperforming to start the season.
That’s not to say he won’t continue to be one the best middle infielders in fantasy though. The number of stolen bases alone are enough to secure him a top spot. While his current pace of homers suggests that he may get to 20+, I’d put him right around the 20 mark at season’s end. The improved plate skills are questionable as he’s actually seeing fewer pitches-per-plate appearance, swinging more often, but making more contact on pitches outside the zone. All-in-all I’m not entirely sure what to make of the plate skills. However, I am sure that I was very wrong on the value of Mondesi.
Current and Future Dynasty Value
Coming into the season I had Mondesi slotted at my 24th ranked shortstop in dynasty leagues. Whoops, I’ve since moved him up to inside my top 10. In dynasty, long-term speed assets are extremely rare. At just 23 years of age, and now almost 500 at-bats of top-tier production it’s time to take Mondesi seriously. Consider paying up for whatever the cost is to acquire him if you’re in desperate need for speed, and honestly, who isn’t? I don’t believe he’ll eclipse the 20 home run mark, but with the juiced ball and Mondesi’s ability to barrel up the baseball I could certainly be incorrect. Regardless, he provides enough power on top of the stolen bases that you should just be damn pleased.
Nicky Lopez, Age: 24, SS/2B
Analysis by: Keaton O. DeRocher
Lost In The Shuffle?
Nicky Lopez was part of the recent rash of call-ups to the Majors that had everyone in redraft leagues losing their minds over FAABageddeon. There were some major names a part of the recent call ups so it’s easy to see why people may have overlooked Lopez, but I’m here to make a pitch that you shouldn’t overlook him and to try and convince you he’s well worth the acquisition in dynasty leagues. Lopez was drafted in the 4th round in 2016 out of Creighton as a player with very polished bat-to-ball skills, who was projected as a solid tools guy with a high floor. So far he’s been better than advertised and he moved very quickly through the minors, reaching Triple-A in less than 2 seasons, and this year making it all the way to the show.
High Floors Are Boring
Players labeled as high floor guys tend not to be very flashy and generally get passed around a lot because they don’t do one thing very very well. For fantasy purposes though, these guys are rocks in your lineup. Lopez I think can be one of the better guys with this label. The most impressive part of Lopez arsenal is his ability to feel the strike zone. In 352 games in the minors, he walked 167 times to striking out only 137. Pair that very advanced approach with a slightly above average hit tool and he slashed .296/.378/.403. He’s displayed some blazing speed on the basepaths too, topping 25 steals twice in the minors. The cherry on top that leads to his call up this season, was his 20:5 BB/K ratio and his .353 average. He really doesn’t have much over the fence power, peaking at 9 homers last season, but he does pile up the extra base hits so he uses what gap to gap power he has well.
What To Expect
It’s a lazy comp, but I don’t think it’s far off: Lopez seems to me like Whit Merrifield lite. Lopez has better on-base skills and Merrifield has a bit more speed but both were polished high floor bats drafted in the later rounds out of college with lacking power but very average to slightly above average tools. Lopez was quicker to the majors but his game really seems to mirror Merrifields pretty well. Much like Merrifield, Lopez was probably a bit under the radar this past week when he got called up but he should make his presence felt. Now would be the time to jump on him before he starts producing at the major league level.
Previously Covered Teams
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