It’s fitting that Mitch Keller is starting the final day of the 2021 Pittsburgh Pirates season.
One final chance for hope.
One final chance this season to see a flash of promise that I believe still exists with the former top pitching prospect.
The Pirates need hope from their rotation. When I’m looking through this organization’s future, the biggest question mark comes from the pitching. That’s especially true if they want to contend before 2024.
Keller is a guy who can get them there.
You wouldn’t think that by looking at the results so far. Only eight of Keller’s 22 starts this year have produced a game score over 50. None of those starts have come back-to-back.
His best month of the season was the month of May. He had two of his three best starts of the season, along with a 54 game score. His other two outings were some of his worst of the year, leading to a 5.25 ERA on the month.
It doesn’t really matter what happens today with Keller, as that won’t change his season. A strong start to finish the year will only be a reminder that he can dominate at the MLB level, but also a reminder that he has yet to do so.
Keller will be entering his age-26 season next year, and he’s still essentially a prospect, banking on untapped potential. He’s shown that potential in short bursts. But, the consistency hasn’t been there.
I’m of the belief that there are two thresholds a prospect needs to pass in order to show he can be a major leaguer.
The first is being able to have any kind of success in the majors.
Keller has made 38 career MLB starts heading into his final start of the year. He’s pitched 167.1 innings. He has a 6.08 ERA.
The results overall have been poor. But, Keller has had enough good results during this time to show that he can have success in the majors.
The second threshold is consistency. How often can a player have success?
So far, Keller hasn’t shown consistency. He has shown ability. He hasn’t had enough playing time to write off his future. He’s at the point where he needs to find out how to add consistency to that ability.
At best, today’s start will be a bright note to end the season. It will be something to build on.
At worst, today’s start will be another bad outing in a bad season. It will show that Keller needs to build from here.
In either case, Keller will need to draw from the positive results this season, and find a way to achieve those more consistently in 2022.
It would be nice if he has one fresh on his memory with a strong start to finish the year.