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Pirates Playoff Projections: Keone Kela

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Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Welcome to episode eight of the Pirates Playoff Projections series!

If you read my intro to the Bucs Dugout site back in July, you’ll remember that I’m a big fantasy baseball fan, which makes me a bit of a numbers/projections guy at times. I still use the eye test plenty to help me find players I like, and there’s nothing quite like enjoying a Pirates baseball game with the emotional interest of a lifelong fan, but I love the statisical, fantasy side of the game as well.

With that in mind, I thought it might be a worthwhile project to start projecting what key Pirates players will need to do in 2020 if the Bucs are going to shock the league and end up in the playoffs come October. I know, I know, it’s a stretch based on the season we all just witnessed. But with a new manager and staff starting to come together, I figured it’s a good time for some optimism.

Each week I’ll pick a player and go through what their 2020 season might look like under the assumption that they’re able to help lead the black and gold to their first playoff appearance since 2015. Let’s go Bucs!

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Keone Kela

I’ll be honest, I’d love to be writing an optimistic article about former closer Felipe Vazquez in this episode with Kela coming up in the next pitcher article. But we all know that’s out of the question now.

If you’re wondering why I’m skipping over Steven Brault and Chris Archer for the time being, it’s simply because I’d love to get some clarity on their roles with the team before I go projecting something for 2020. I think there’s merit to Archer potentially being used in a lower pitch count, late-inning role like an Archie Bradley type player. I also think Brault can be a great fifth starter for the rotation, but an offseason signing could certainly change that. I may have to bite the bullet and just give it my best shot sometime soon, but let’s just start with Kela for now.

It took forever for the former Rangers closer to return from an injury that sidelined him for much of the middle portion of the year. However, when he did finally return in late July, he was down right filthy. Kela sported a 0.50 ERA and 0.83 WHIP over 18 innings to finish the year. He spent some of that time as a late-inning guy ahead of Vazquez, and then the later portion as the closer after Vazquez’ debacle. His batting average against was a miniscule .131 with 22 strikeouts and no homers allowed. He was exactly what a great major league closer should be.

There’s a small possibility that Kyle Crick or Richard Rodriguez challenge him for that coveted closer spot, but a healthy Kela is certainly the favorite for saves in 2020. We can probably project his second half BABIP to come up a bit from the seemingly lucky .205 mark, but the strikeouts are real, and the kid can really generate soft contact when he’s on.

The one downside to Kela (well, I guess two downsides if you want to include his injury history) is that his character is certainly not Joe Musgrove-like. It might be unfair to label him as a detriment to the locker room, as there were certainly other contributors that led to the issues at the end of 2020, but there’s some reason to be concerned. However, my hope is that a new manager (especially a player’s manager like Derek Shelton) and staff will help get the best out of players. Not to mention, winning tends to cure most ailments in the locker room. So, if we’re projecting as if a playoff run is possible, I don’t think suspensions or locker room issues should be factored in at this point.

Let’s see what I can come up with for a 2020 Keone Kela projection!

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Keone Kela 2020:

67 appearances, 69.2 innings pitched

4-3 record, 36 saves

88 strikeouts (11.5 K/9)

2.77 ERA and 1.01 WHIP

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What do YOU think? Give me some over, under, or just rights down in the comments below. I’m also always happy to hear your thoughts on more in-depth statistics like HR/FB, xFIP, BABIP, and more. Hope you’re all having a good offseason so far, and I’ll be back next week to tackle another Bucco stat line for 2020. Until then, Let’s go Bucs!