Pittsburgh Pirates: Four Bold Predictions for the 2023 Season
By Noah Wright
Mitch Keller Earns Some Cy Young attention
Don't get this confused with predicting Mitch Keller will win the Cy Young. It would be awesome to see Keller do that, but I think he'll get at least one Cy Young vote for now. After his outstanding 2022 season, where he made massive improvements and has continued to improve in Spring this year, Keller is on the up-and-up.
From May 25 through the end of the season, Keller had an impressive 3.20 ERA, 3.67 FIP, and 1.35 WHIP through 123.2 innings of work. Although Keller's strikeout rate clocked in at a below-average 20.5% rate, he had a decent 8.7% walk rate and an outstanding 0.65 HR/9. Keller became a ground ball specialist, inducing grounders at a 49.9% rate and keeping opponents to an 88 MPH exit velocity.
Two important things happened on May 25 onward that really helped Keller perform so well. The first was the addition of his sinker. Although it wasn't the first time in 2022 he had thrown a sinker, it was the first time he had used it more than just once. Keller used his sinker a third of a time on May 25, and it became a primary part of his arsenal from there on out. At the end of the season, Keller racked up -8 run value with his newly added pitch.
The second thing is he started to use a sweeping breaking ball that averaged out with 12 inches of horizontal break. His slider previously sat with 3-5 inches of horizontal break, but then he added over a half foot of movement to his breaking pitch. After June 19, he never average below 15 inches of horizontal break with his primary breaking pitch.
Keller has also worked on a cutter in Spring that looks really good. He's gotten a handful of called and swinging strikes. He hasn't played enough in Spring to make a full conclusion, but the early results are promising nonetheless. He added a brand new pitch to his arsenal that was highly effective and adjusted a second pitch to the point where it was essentially like adding another offering, so why can't he add a third new pitch to his arsenal?
I believe that Keller will get his strikeout rate back to around league average, but keep a similar BB% and HR/9, as well as a similar or better ERA. He could be a lot like Atlanta Braves' right-hander Kyle Wright, who finished 10th in Cy Young Award voting, and unlike Keller, Wright didn't have any sort of breakout pre-2022, mainly struggling as an up-and-down prospect beforehand.