Mitch Keller justifying Pirates' extension after massive May

After a dominant month of May, Mitch Keller has proved why he was worthy of a five-year extension.
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Pirates ace, Mitch Keller, narrowly missed being awarded the National League Pitcher of the Month after dominating opposing offenses during the month of May. This stretch of great starts was very important for Keller, as he began the season with a rough March and April, which carried over from the second half of the 2023 season.

The second half of 2023 was not good for Keller. In that stretch, he posted a 4-5 record with a 5.59 earned run average in 77.1 innings pitched, striking out 81 batters. Hitters also hit .288 off of him and his WHIP was 1.44. During Spring Training of 2024, thePirates ignored that data and signed Keller to a five-year contract extension worth $77 million. He was an All-Star in 2023, but that second half did very little to convince fans that Keller would be the Pirates' ace for years to come.

In 2024, Keller began his season with a rough April. In that month, he had a 2-3 record with a 4.98 earned run average in 34.1 innings pitched, striking out 36 batters. Opponents had a batting average of .274 against him and his WHIP was 1.46. From the second half to the start of May, Keller did not look like the ace that fans believed they were getting for another five years.

After a rough start in Oakland to close out April, Keller knew he had to do something different. He made an immediate pivot, tossing a complete game against the Angels, which started a big time hot streak of great starts. In May, Keller had a 4-0 record with an earned run average of 1.30 in 27.2 innings pitched and struck out 19 batters. Opponents had a batting average of just .212 against him and his WHIP was solid at 0.90.

Mitch Keller is pitching like an All-Star right now. If he keeps it up, he could make it to his second consecutive All-Star Game.

The Pirates needed Keller to step up this season, and as of recently, he has. Through 12 starts in 2024, Keller has a 7-3 record with a 3.42 earned run average in 73.2 innings pitched and has struck out 66 batters. He also has a WHIP of 1.22 and an opponent batting average of .250. His FIP is at a 3.47 and his WAR is at 1.3.

While it wasn't quite enough to topple Chris Sale for this month's hardware, Keller's recent production (as a No. 3, not an ace) has more than justified the Pirates' investment in him.