Week Ahead: Keller on the Cusp

·8 min read



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As fantasy sports managers know well, the offseason hype machine can play a significant role in average draft position (ADP). One player who gained steam this spring was Pirates starting pitcher Mitch Keller, a former top prospect who posted a 6.17 ERA in 23 starts in MLB last season.

Reports of a velocity increase, along with a strong Spring Training, pushed Keller's NFBC Main Event ADP up to pick 303 entering the season. Unfortunately, those risk takers were sorely disappointed through the first three months of the season, as the velocity increase did little to help Keller. Through July 6, he had an ugly 5.21 ERA with a mediocre 66/32 K/BB in 76 innings despite averaging better than 95 mph on his fastball.

Since then Keller has apparently flipped a switch. Over his last six starts, Keller has posted an outstanding 2.23 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, lowering his full-season ERA by almost a full run. The control issues that long plagued Keller have been solved recently, with 25/7 K/BB over 36.1 innings during that period.

So what's made the difference? Believe it or not, it appears less velocity from his four-seam fastball along with a new sinker that he introduced in mid-May. Keller's average fastball from the four seamer fell sharply beginning in his July 11 start, and has been down about two mph on average over his las six starts compared to the first three months of his 2022 season. That pitch, along with the introduction of the sinker, has clearly provided a boost.

While the four-seam velocity is now more on par with what we saw from Keller over the last two seasons, he's suddenly showing elite control (1.7 BB/9) with the new adjustments. Still, this isn't quite the power pitcher we expected from Keller's prospect days when he posted a 9.6 K/9 in the minors, but he's clearly starting to find his footing as an MLB pitcher. Patient fantasy managers are also being paid dividends from Keller's performance.

-Over a long MLB season, stats usually regress to the mean. That's been the case with Jose Urquidy, who has lowered his ERA by more than a full run over the last two months after a very slow start. Home runs are down across MLB this season, but that hasn't been the case with Urquidy, who sports a career-worst 1.5 HR/9 and has allowed at least one homer in 16 of 21 starts. He's at least gotten the home runs in check since June 14, and posted an elite 2.81 ERA over that time with the help of his elite control. It should be noted Urquidy has actually had some good fortune with an incredibly low .168 BABIP during that span, but fantasy managers will take the positive regression any way they can get it. A pair of road starts against the White Sox and Braves next week don't make for an easy week, but Urquidy has pitched too well to bench in fantasy lineups.

-The Royals have been a massive disappointment again this season, and the failure of young pitchers like Kris Bubic to develop is a big reason. Like Mitch Keller, Bubic has shown some positives more recently. His ERA is down to 5.02 with a streak of positive outings. Since the start of July, Bubic hasn't allowed more than three runs in a start, which has led to a 3.04 ERA over his last eight starts. Control issues have long been Bubic's dilemma, but his 40/20 K/BB in 47.1 innings represents some improvement (3.8 BB/9) over what we saw earlier in the season. Bubic still has a long way to go with his control, but the lefty's progress is a good sign as he heads into a two-start week at Minnesota and Tampa Bay.

-JP Sears wasn't the splashiest part of Oakland's return in the Frankie Montas trade, but he has a chance to be its biggest contributor. He's been very impressive in 27.1 MLB innings this season, including his first start with Oakland, with a 2.30 ERA and 18/5 K/BB. The lefty is somewhat dismissed as a prospect at age 26, but his minor league performance has been downright dominant with a 1.70 ERA and 60/7 K/BB in 47.2 innings at Triple-A this season. Sears' control has improved, but he does have a nice track record of success and now has a roomier home ballpark in Oakland that should play well to his flyball tendencies. We know there aren't many wins to be had on his current A's squad, but that doesn't mean Sears can't be a helpful addition for the stretch run.

Going Twice…

Note: Probable pitchers as of Friday, August 12, and are subject to change.

American League

Strong Plays

Gerrit Cole: TB, TOR

Luis Castillo: @LAA, @OAK

Dylan Cease: HOU, @CLE

Nestor Cortes: TB, TOR

Alek Manoah: BAL, @NYY

Decent Plays

Jose Urquidy: @CHW, @ATL

Joe Ryan: KC, TEX

Johnny Cueto: HOU, @CLE

Jeffrey Springs: @NYY, KC

Dean Kremer: @TOR, BOS

Nick Pivetta: @PIT, @BAL

Mitch White: BAL, @NYY

Zack Greinke: @MIN, @TB

Kris Bubic: @MIN, @TB

James Kaprielian: @TEX, SEA

JP Sears: @TEX, SEA

At Your Own Risk

Glenn Otto: OAK, @MIN

Ryan Yarbrough: @NYY, KC

Aaron Civale: DET, CHW

Drew Hutchison: @CLE, LAA

Kyle Bradish: @TOR, BOS

Cole Ragans: OAK, @MIN

National League

Strong Plays

Julio Urías: @MIL, MIA

Joe Musgrove: @MIA, WAS

Brandon Woodruff: LAD, @CHC

Decent Plays

Kyle Wright: NYM, HOU

Merrill Kelly: @SF, STL

Mitch Keller: BOS, CIN

José Quintana: COL, @ARI

Marcus Stroman: @WAS, MIL

Carlos Carrasco: @ATL, @PHI

Freddy Peralta: LAD, @CHC

Alex Cobb: ARI, @COL

Taijuan Walker: @ATL, @PHI

Noah Syndergaard: @CIN, NYM

Sean Manaea: @MIA, WAS

Josiah Gray: CHC, @SD

At Your Own Risk

Kyle Freeland: @STL, SF

Jakob Junis: ARI, @COL

Madison Bumgarner: @SF, STL

Mike Minor: PHI, @PIT

Patrick Corbin: CHC, @SD

Streamer City

The following pitchers are generally available in over 50 percent of fantasy leagues and have favorable match-ups this week:

American League

Wednesday, August 17: Domingo German vs. TB

After a poor first start to his season, German has been solid with a 3.07 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in three outings. The Rays lineup is banged up and has struggled vs. right-handers, with a .679 OPS.

Thursday, August 18: Dane Dunning vs. OAK

Pitchers continue to feast on the A's lineup, while Dunning is pitching some of the best baseball of his season with a total of four runs allowed over his last 18 innings. Oakland's OPS is the second worst in MLB vs. right-handers (.615).

Saturday, August 20: Tyler Alexander vs. LAA

Lefties have had their day vs. the Mike Trout-less Angels. Anaheim is sporting a poor .640 OPS against southpaws, while Alexander is coming off two very strong starts.

National League

Tuesday, August 16: Kyle Gibson @ CIN

Cincinnati struggled to hit against right-handers even before losing Tyler Stephenson, Brandon Drury, and Tommy Pham. Gibson is coming off arguably his best start of the season, allowing one run on two hits in eight innings vs. Washington.

Wednesday, August 17: Drew Smyly @ WAS

Smyly seems to find his name on this list weekly, which says a lot about his recent schedule. He has yet another great matchup next week, facing a Nats lineup with a .688 OPS vs. lefties and sinking fast without Juan Soto and Josh Bell.

Friday, August 19: Graham Ashcraft @ PIT

The fireballing Ashcraft is back on track over his last three starts with a 1.74 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, throwing strikes consistently. Pittsburgh has yet to face the rookie this season, but their .652 OPS against right-handers is the worst in the NL.

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Total Games

American League

6: BOS, LAA, MIN, SEA

7: BAL, CLE, CHW, DET, HOU, KC, NYY, OAK, TB, TEX, TOR

National League

6: CIN, COL, MIA, PIT, STL

7: ARI, ATL, CHC, LAD, MIL, PHI, SD, SF, WAS

8: NYM

The Infirmary

Here's some injuries to prominent players from the last week, and other players to watch for in the coming week. You can get a full listing of injured players at NBCSports Edge's Injury Page.

Jorge Alfaro: Day-to-day (knee)

Tim Anderson: Out 6-8 weeks (wrist)

Orlando Arcia: Placed on IL (hamstring)

Joey Bart: Day-to-day (ankle)

Paul Blackburn: Placed on IL (finger)

Matt Carpenter: Out 6-8 weeks (foot)

Garrett Cooper: Day-to-day (calf)

Nelson Cruz: Placed on IL (shoulder)

Yonathan Daza: Day-to-day (shoulder)

Elias Diaz: Status uncertain (hand)

Max Fried: Placed on IL (concussion)

Hunter Greene: Placed on IL (shoulder)

Tanner Houck: Placed on IL (back)

Spencer Howard: Placed on IL (shoulder)

Jonathan India: Status uncertain (leg)

Mickey Moniak: Placed on IL (finger)

Mike Moustakas: Placed on IL (calf)

Max Muncy: Day-to-day (hand)

A.J. Pollock: Day-to-day (foot)

Taylor Rogers: Day-to-day (knee)

Chris Sale: Out for the season (finger/wrist)

Kyle Schwarber: Day-to-day (calf)