Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Underrated Key to Mitch Keller’s Success


Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander has yet to find any consistent success in the big leagues, but catcher Jacob Stallings may be his key to finding that consistency.

Mitch Keller’s career has been anything but consistent or even normal. The former Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect had one of the most unlucky starts to his career back in 2019. Then he followed that up with one of the luckiest stretches of games in 2020.

This season he’s yet to find consistent good starts. In his 21 total starts this year, he’s given up 2 or fewer runs 11 times. Yet, on the other hand, he’s given up 7 runs on three different occasions. When Keller has taken the mound this year, you don’t know if he’s going to fire 6, 1 run innings with 5-7 strikeouts, or fail to make the 5th inning before giving up 3+ runs.

But there is some hope he can turn things around and become a more consistent pitcher. Keller’s splits indicate that he could be a lot better and his key to success may lie in Jacob Stallings.

Stallings is renowned for his outstanding glovework behind the dish. He has +21 DRS, the most by any player in baseball. His +7.4 framing runs this year ranks 8th among backstops with at least 500 innings caught. Stallings is on his way to be a Gold Glove finalist and possibly the winner of the award.

So aside from his outstanding defense, how has Stallings helped Keller?

For one, he has a 5.22 ERA. I know what you’re thinking, that’s still not good by any stretch and I agree with that assessment. But when you look at how he does with Michael Perez, it’s clear that some of his worst games have been with Perez behind the dish. In comparison, the right-hander has a 7.29 ERA with Perez. That’s over a 2-run difference.

This is also reflected in opponent OPS. Opponents hit Keller for a .989 mark with Perez, but a .798 mark with Stallings, a difference of nearly 200 points. Now tOPS+ is a form of OPS+ but is measured relative to the pitcher’s OPS+. Keller has a very solid 85 mark with Stallings. With Perez? 127. That’s not the only good number to come out of Keller pitching to Stallings. He also has a 3.44 FIP, 0.59 HR/9, and 23% strikeout rate with Stallings.

It shouldn’t be a massive surprise that Keller pitches better to Stallings. Stallings isn’t only one of the best defenders in the sport, but Keller and Stallings were battery mates throughout the minor leagues very often.

Next. Two Impressive Triple-A Debuts. dark

In the end, it’s worth at least trying Stallings as Keller’s personal catcher. The two work better together than Keller has with any other catcher he’s worked with yet. The right-hander has shown he has what it takes to be a big-league arm, but has yet to do it consistently. Maybe all he needs is a backstop he feels confident in.