What would you do with Mitch Keller at this point?
The top future pitching option in the majors has yet to put together two good outings in a row. He’s shown promise for the future in the good outings, and has been hit hard in the bad ones.
You wouldn’t know that by just looking at his OPS against. The pitch has only led to a .690 OPS this year. However, the control of the pitch has been alarming.
Keller has thrown his fastball in the strike zone just 50% of the time this year. That’s down from nearly 60% in 2019, and 57.5% last year.
Coming up through the system, Keller had one of the best fastballs, with very promising control. An upper-90s fastball with above-average or better control, plus two above-average to plus breaking pitches is a starter you want to build around.
Keller was coming up when the Pirates were using the fastball to an extreme amount, where the standard was more than 60% fastballs, and the extreme players would be closer to 70%. He’s now below 60% fastballs, using his slider and curveball more often.
The downside for any pitcher is that if your fastball isn’t effective, it will lower the quality of the breaking stuff. It’s difficult to get people to chase out of the zone with the breaking stuff when the fastball isn’t in the zone to set it up on the previous pitch. It’s difficult to get people to respect breaking pitches low in the zone when you can’t follow with a fastball thrown for a strike at the top of the zone.
You could make an argument that Keller could benefit from some time in Triple-A. He would have an easier time against minor league pitching, allowing him to get his pitches back on track, specifically the fastball control.
Even after that confidence builder, he’s going to need to figure out how to make this work in the majors. Honestly, this is where I’d like to see what the new pitching approach from Oscar Marin does.
It’s easy to just dismiss a problem by sending the problem far enough away that you forget it exists. It would be easy to just send Keller down to do some work, and hope that this time it leads to a consistently good MLB pitcher.
Why are there pitching coaches in Pittsburgh, if that’s the case?
This isn’t a year where the Pirates are going to be winners. Therefore, every game is essentially Spring Training. It doesn’t matter if Keller gets blown up every other start at the start of the year. It doesn’t matter if he looks good for a few innings then implodes.
The only thing that matters is that he’s got it all figured out by the end of the year.
What’s the better approach to his 2021 development, on a losing team?
Do you go to a Triple-A squad, play against Triple-A talent, and hope that whatever worked there will magically translate to the majors?
Or, do you stay in the majors, take your lumps, figure out what might not be working, and get a new chance every five days to figure out something new?
Here’s the thing to consider about the above: We know Keller’s fastball control has been down this year. Is that a cause or an effect? That’s where I’m interested in seeing what Marin and company can do over the long-term.
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