Pittsburgh Pirates starter Mitch Keller finally pieced together a good season after making some major changes
It finally happened. Mitch Keller finally had a good season, and as a Keller fan, I couldn’t be any happier. After what felt like forever, the Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed starting pitcher pieced together a quality year on the mound. It didn’t look like that at the start of the year, but by the end of the season, he was arguably baseball’s most underrated starting pitcher.
The start of the year could have gone a lot better for Keller. In the first 32.2 innings of his 2022 season, Keller had a 6.61 ERA, 4.70 FIP, and 1.53 WHIP. He did have a solid 8.1% walk rate but a sub-20% strikeout rate (17.6%) and allowed home runs at a 2.17-per-9 rate. Not only was this a letdown because it looked like another lost season for the former top prospect, but it was also a massive letdown because Keller looked terrific in the off-season, adding a ton of velocity, and then put on a clinic in Spring Training.
Things were looking bleak for the right-hander, but something just clicked in mid-May.
Keller added a sinker to his pitch arsenal, and that changed everything. Through his final 126.1 innings of the season, Keller worked to the tune of a 3.21 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP. The walk rate of 8.9% and a strikeout rate of 20.8% definitely weren’t great, but Keller had a 0.64 HR/9, less than half of what he put up in his first handful of outings. Keller became a ground ball merchant, inducing the batted ball result nearly 50% of the time (49.6%). Keller’s 88 MPH exit velocity may not have been top-of-the-line, but it was slightly above average and played up because of his ground ball rate.
Keller was one of the better starting pitchers in the National League from mid-May onward. Among pitchers with at least 120 IPs from May 15th through the end of the regular season, Keller ranked 21st in fWAR, 14th in ERA, 17th in FIP, and seventh in HR/9 rate. He wasn’t the best, but there’s an easy argument to be made that he was a top 15-20 pitcher in the National League, which isn’t half bad if I do say so myself.
Keller looks to anchor the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation in 2023. He’s one of the multiple young arms that should get regular starts next year. His improvements in 2022 are highly promising, and he has the make-up to continue improving. In the last year, we’ve seen him make massive changes in velocity and pitch usage, and it’s worked to his benefit. Maybe we will see him fully harness his fastball, improve another pitch, and become even better in 2023.