Rum Bunter 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates Staff Predictions: Noah
By Noah Wright
Cy Young: Mitch Keller
While Hayes might be the team’s rookie of the year, the Pirates number one pitching prospect will give him a run for his money. I’ll go with the Pirates’ top pitching prospect Mitch Keller as the Pittsbrguh Pirates’ Cy Young.
When you look at it, Keller and 2019 NL ERA leader and 3rd place finisher in Cy Young voting, Hyun-Jin Ryu had really similar ‘19 seasons. Keller had a 3.19 FIP, Ryu had a 3.10 FIP. Keller had a 3.47 xFIP, Ryu had a 3.30 xFIP. Keller had a 3.78 SIERA, Ryu had a 3.77 SIERA.
Keller could also be compared to Jack Flaherty of the Cardinals as he had a similar xFIP (3.64), and SIERA (3.68). Keller also had a 28.6% strikeout rate compared to Flahety’s 29.9%. Flahetty had a 1.15 HR/9, almost identical to Keller’s 1.13 HR/9. Flaherty had a 39.5% and Keller had a 39.2% ground ball rate. While Flaherty induced more soft contact (23.6%) than Keller (15.2%), Keller still gave up less hard contact (35.9%) than Flaherty (37.6%).
I should also mention that he was the best pitcher at Triple-A as he led all Triple-A pitchers in ERA, FIP, K/9, strikeout rate, HR/9, and posting a solid 8% walk rate to go with a WHIP that was the 2nd lowest at Triple-A (1.24).
So what did Keller do wrong that gave him an ERA above 7 while both Flaherty and Ryu both had ERA’s below 3? Well it wasn’t really anything that Keller did, much more being what he didn’t have. Both Flaherty and Ryu had two of the best defenses in baseball behind them. In the National League, the Cardinals were third in the league in DRS, UZR, and were 6th in range runs. The Dodgers led the league in DRS, and the 5th highest range runs above average, and while they did have a negative UZR at -2.0, it was really the only defensive stat they were lacking in. Meanwhile, the Pirates ranked next to last in DRS, last in UZR, and last in range runs above average. The Pirates gave ample amount of playing time to Colin Moran, Josh Bell, Elias Diaz, and Starling Marte who all were the worst defenders at their position, with Kevin Newman as the 5th worst at his position of shortstop.
This all led to a .475 batting average on balls in play. You literally can’t get more unlucky than this. It’s the highest single season BAbip by a starter ever in at least 40 innings of work. The highest BAbip of all time in at least 150 innings is from Cy Bentley at .385 in 1872, almost a whole .100 lower than Keller’s.
Since 1950, there have only been eight single seasons where a pitcher has had at least 150 innings and a BAbip of .350 or higher. The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to have a whole new defense with Hayes, Cole Tucker, Jose Ousna, Jacob Stallings, and Jarrod Dyson all projected to serve regular roles for the Pirates in 2020, with Josh Bell seeing an ample amount of time, if not all of his plate appearances coming from designated hitter.
Keller could have an ERA in the low-3’s with the numbers he put up last year. Keller has outstanding peripherals. Aside from his ERA and BAbip, everything points to him being an ace. He has perpherials that are near-identical to Jack Flaherty and Patrick Corbin. He has a pitch repertoire that you could confuse for Justin Verlander’s. His ERA estimators are similar to that of Ryu’s. This is a recipe for greatness. Not only do I think Mitch Keller could win the National League Rookie Of The Year, but I also think we could see Keller get a few Cy Young votes. Expect big things from Keller in 2020.