Pittsburgh Pirates: Mitch Keller's Secondary Pitches Hold Key to Consistency

Photo Credit: Kevin C Cox/Getty Images

 The Pittsburgh Pirates had high hopes for Mitch Keller, as he quickly raised through the system and became one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball.

It has been a different story since reaching the majors, as Keller has failed to establish himself as a consistent major league level starting pitcher. He has certainly shown flashes, but hasn't been able to string enough starts together to say that he has finally 'made it'.

In his start on Sunday, Keller had if not one of his best starts in the majors - certainly had one of his defining moments. Despite being tagged with the loss, Keller threw five innings of two-run baseball where he allowed six hits, walked three but struck out eight.

The moment that many are excited about was him pitching out of a second-and-third with no out situation without surrendering a run. 

I won't lie, I've watch that inning multiple times since Sunday afternoon when the game took place. It was a big moment in his career that just can't seem to get off the ground.

A lot of people are saying this could be the turning point for Keller, who may have finally found his confidence while on the mound.

While that has a lot to do with his pitching aliments, consistency from start to start is what is going to finally give Keller his 'I'm a big league pitcher' moment.

I try not to be a Debbie downer. Covering this team there is enough down moments without generating one. It was awesome to see Keller come through in a moment like that, as too many times we've seen him give up that one big hit that opens the game up.

How he approaches his next start will truly tell how far he has come.

Without digging too much into his 2019 and 2020 seasons, Keller has struggled to build off a successful start this year. 

Date

Opponent

Innings Pitched

Hits

Earned Runs

BB

K

4/10

Chicago Cubs

5

5

1

1

7

4/15

San Diego Padres

3 1/3

9

7

3

1

4/22

Detroit Tigers

5

5

2

0

5

4/28

Kansas City Royals

2 1/3

3

4

5

2

5/4

Padres

5 2/3

2

0

2

5

5/10

Cincinnati Reds 

3 1/3

7

7

2

2

5/16

San Francisco Giants

5

6

2

3

8


Notice a theme? Keller has gone back and forth in each of his past seven starts. He had a good outing this time around, what lies ahead of Keller?

What's the issue?

It's been inconsistency with his secondary pitches, plain and simple. Keller has a dynamic fastball, capable of reaching the upper-90s, and while his breaking pitches are good offerings he has struggled leaving them up in the zone.

Pitch

Avg

OBP

SLG

ISO

SwgStr%

K%

Fastball

.240

.370

.400

.160

6.4%

26.1%

Slider

.375

.429

.719

.344

12.1%

20%

Curveball

.333

.360

.500

.167

6.5%

12%

Changeup

.333

.333

.333

.000

0.0

0%

*Numbers courtesy of Fangraphs

His changeup has only resulted in three outcomes thus far this year, so it doesn't have the best sample size to go by, but his other secondary offerings have certainly left something to be desired. Batters are slugging .719 against Keller's slider and have an ISO (measures extra-bases only) of .344. 

On the flip side, Keller has produced a higher rate of swing and misses (SwgStr%) with that same slider than any of his other pitchers and 20% of outcomes that have resulted from it have been strikeouts.


Here are some pitches that Keller was hit hard on with his slider. Some of them aren't in horrible position, but do get enough of the plate, in some cases when he was ahead in the count, where it costs him. 


Again on the flip side, Keller has shown his slide can be a nightmare for hitters. None of these pitchers really stayed strikes for long, if at all.

Final Thoughts

It's easy to forget that Keller has yet to pitch to what would be considered a full season. The pandemic and injuries have really limited how much experience he has been able to put together. The 25-year old righty has just 102 1/3 innings of major league experience.

He's in a perfect position to take his time to put things together. Ben Cherington himself said that Keller isn't going anywhere and he's going to get the opportunity to put things together.

Keller has long since shown he has the stuff to be in the majors, Sunday he showed he has the guts, now his next start he needs to show he can put it all together multiple times in a row.

What are your thoughts on Keller this season? What has been the missing piece for him in the early part of his career? Let us know what you think in the comment section below, subscribe to the site at the link at the top, and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.

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