Pittsburgh Pirates: Mitch Keller’s Swing & Miss Problem


As Mitch Keller continues to struggle with the Pittsburgh Pirates a major factor has become his inability to generate swings and misses

Entering the 2019 season Mitch Keller was consensus top 50 prospect in all of baseball. Viewed as the future ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates the righty would make his MLB debut in May of 2019, kicking off a season in which he struggled.

While Keller posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 5 starts last season, this was driven by an unsustainable batting average on balls in play (BAbip) of .104. This came after he posted the highest BAbip in MLB history for any pitcher with at least 40 innings pitched of .475 the season prior.

Dating back to Spring Training the 2021 season was shaping up to be a sink or swim season for Keller. Through the first 5 starts of his 2021 season Keller has sunk, pitching to the tune of a 8.20 ERA and a 5.22 FIP in 18.2 innings pitched.

Keller’s latest clunker came on Wednesday night. In the start Keller lasted just 2.1 innings, surrendering 4 runs on 3 hits, 5 walks and just 2 strikeouts. The lone highlight of the start for Keller was that he did not allow any home runs.

In Wednesday night’s loss against the Kansas City Royals, Keller threw 83 pitches. Of these 83 pitches, only 6 generated a swing and miss. That is a woeful swing and miss rate of 7.2%, which continues a concerning trend for Keller.

The inability of Keller to generate swings and misses was on full display with the amount of two-strike pitches fouled off by Kansas City hitters. Wednesday night Royal hitters fouled off 14 Keller pitches with two strikes. 14. Keller simply could not put opposing batters away.

Through his first 5 starts this season Keller has thrown 403 pitches. Of these 403 pitches only 42 have resulted in a swing and a miss. This is a poor swing and miss rate of 10.4%. Simply put, that is not nearly good enough to be a MLB starting pitcher, let alone a quality starting pitcher.

A driving force in Keller’s problems generating swings and misses has been poor secondary stuff. Since his days as a prospect Keller’s secondary stuff has regressed. A slider that once had the potential to be a plus pitch has stopped improving and become a below average pitch. His curveball has also lost most of its snap and bite.

Keller’s fastball has been problematic as well. While the pitch has averaged 92.5 MPH this season, which puts it in the 82nd percentile of baseball, and its spin rate is in the 66th percentile, the pitch continues to be too flat. This combined with poor fastball command has led to opposing hitters slugging nearly .500 off the pitch this season.

As a result of failing to miss bats Keller has been plagued with hard hit balls this season. Opposing batters own an average 92.1 MPH exit velocity off of Keller to go with a 40.4% hard hit rate. Both of these numbers are well above MLB average, sitting in the 6th and 9th percentile of baseball. The 9.6% barrel rate opposing batters own off of Keller in 2021 sits 2.0% higher than the league average as well.

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A big first step to Keller turning things around is generating more swings and misses. To do this Keller needs to improve his control and not just throw more strikes, but throw more quality strikes. Until this happens, Keller will continue to struggle for the Pittsburgh Pirates.