In his past three starts Mitch Keller's velocity has been down. Should he and the Pittsburgh Pirates be concerned?
An All-Star campaign has turned into a bit of an up-and-down season for Mitch Keller. A strong start to the season led to Keller being one of two All-Stars for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After struggling for much of June and July, Keller began to right the ship again in August.
However, in his most recent start against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night Keller turned in one of the worst starts of his career. In 5 innings pitched, Keller allowed 8 earned runs which tied his season high.
Overall this season Keller owns a 4.23 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 1.13 HR/9, 6.8% walk rate, and a 25.5% strikeout rate. These results have come in 29 starts, which ties his career high, and a new career high 174.2 innings pitched. His walk rate is a career low, while his strikeout rate is his highest since his first MLB season in 2019.
A 4.23 ERA is higher than any team wants to see from their top starting pitcher but is also a number that ballooned following Friday night's disaster in Atlanta as Keller entered the start with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Despite the poor results, Keller still generated 12 swings-and-misses. Also, there were multiple times when Keller was hurt by weakly hit balls that found green and turned into weak base hits. Some times you just have starts like that.
One potential major red flag from that start was Keller's velocity. For a third straight start, his velocity was down.
In his August 25th start Keller's four-seamer averaged 94.3 MPH and his sinker was 93.2 MPH. Those numbers dipped to 94.0 MPH and 92.6 MPH in his September 1st start. Then on Friday night, they averaged 93.6 MPH and 92.5 MPH. His cutter velocity is down, sitting in the high-80s during these starts after previously being in the low-90s.
You can see the trend.
A drop in velocity for any pitcher is never a good thing. Unless it's velocity that happens to be down to start the season before they're built all the way back up, typically, a drop in velocity is a big red flag. However, that may not be the case for Keller.
The most likely reason for Keller's drop in velocity is that he is starting to hit a wall as a season that already has a career high in innings pitched begins to wind down. That is not uncommon for any pitcher, even if they're not in new territory when it comes to innings pitched.
Keller's velocity across his last few starts will be something to monitor. Even if it remains down a few ticks, as long as he does not begin to allow large amounts of hard contact or see his control begin to suffer then it likely is nothing to worry about.