Right-hander Brad Keller has been shut down for the rest of the season, Royals manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com’s Anne Rogers and other reporters. Keller hasn’t pitched since August 26 due to a Grade 2 strain in his right lat, and there isn’t enough time remaining in the season for Keller to fully rehab and return to the mound.
The news officially ends Keller’s fourth MLB season after 26 starts and 133 2/3 innings, and beyond reliably taking the ball and soaking up some innings in the K.C. rotation, 2021 was certainly Keller’s most difficult year. The righty posted a 5.39 ERA/4.84 SIERA, plus strikeout (19.6%) and walk (10.4%) rates that were well below the league average. The walk rate is the worst of Keller’s brief career while his strikeout rate is actually his best, as Keller has relied on a grounder-heavy arsenal to retire batters. Keller was aided by a .280 BABIP over his first three seasons, though the combination of a .347 BABIP and some of the worst hard-contact numbers in league contributed mightily to his struggles this year.
While the overall numbers are grim, most of Keller’s issues came in the first half of the season. Over his last nine starts and 52 2/3 innings, Keller had a much more respectable 3.42 ERA, though his strikeout and walk rates were only slightly improved. Still, if Keller had somewhat turned the corner on his season, his lat strain cost him the opportunity to make a strong finish and earn a few extra dollars in arbitration this winter. Keller will be arb-eligible for the second time this winter, after agreeing to a $3.35MM salary for 2021.
Though the Royals have several younger pitchers who will be expected to take on bigger roles in the 2022 rotation, Keller’s tough season likely won’t threaten his spot in the starting five. Keller is still only 26 himself, and the former Rule 5 Draft pick has had enough success at the MLB level that the Royals aren’t going to give up on him this quickly. However, Kansas City might still look to add another veteran starter this offseason in order to add some reliability to a rotation mix that struggled as a whole.