Don't Forget About Mitch Keller's 2022 Second Half

Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

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The Pittsburgh Pirates made a lot of noise this offseason, especially by their relative barometer.  They signed a new 1B/DH duo in Ji-Man Choi and Carlos Santana, signed 100 year old Rich Hill. pissed off Bryan Reynolds and Choi, made a hype video for Vince Velazquez, and sprinkled in Connor Joe and Austin Hedges signings as well.  They also brought back the most beloved Pirate since Willie Stargell by signing Andrew McCutchen to a one-year deal.  

There is also a ton of buzz around youngsters just ready to explode.  The leader of that movement is shortstop Oneil Cruz who has high expectations for him even on a national level.  A healthy Ke'Bryan Hayes could finally have a bat that breaks out to accompany his All-Star level fielding.  Plus, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, and Roansy Contreras look to build off of promising 2022 campaigns.  

However, getting lost in all of this buzz is the budding star that I am most excited about.  And that is 26 year-old Mitch Keller.  We forget that Keller is still just 26 because he's technically going into his 5th season with the Pirates and 3rd full season.  He is still developing in his own right.  

And he also may have made an adjustment last season that will propel him to an All-Star level season in 2023.  On May 18th, in the middle of last season, Keller threw a sinker.  That started a trend where his primary pitch switched from a four-seam fastball to the sinker.  

Prior to the sinker, Keller had a 6.61 ERA through seven starts and the Pirates demoted him to the bullpen.  After adding the sinker to his arsenal, Keller registered a 3.21 ERA in 22 starts.  He also had 12 quality starts in that stretch.  There may have been more if the Pirates weren't potentially limiting his innings late in the season.  I don't know that to be true, but it was Keller's first season where he pitched over 100.2 innings, so they may have been a bit more careful in September when games didn't really matter at that point.

I had dropped off as a Keller believer.  Prospects don't pan out all the time.  His struggles were continuing to build upon each other and he looked lost out there.  He would have one good start followed by two bad ones.  Keller also appeared as if his confidence was shot.  He had no swagger on the mound.  

I would not have came around on Keller if he had just continued what he was doing and turned in a few good or even great starts here and there.  He was too inconsistent for my liking.  I can't get behind something intangible like the hope he started executing his pitches better.  

But Keller made a legitimate change to his pitching arsenal and saw instant results.  That is something tangible I can get behind.  Now I believe he is a rising star.  He could be the Pirates' first clear ace since Gerrit Cole.  Which is huge for the entire staff.  If you have an ace at the top of your staff it often has a trickle down effect.  The pressure is taken off each of the other starters as they bump down the depth chart.  The bullpen gets a much needed rest day every five games.  The impact of a true ace is felt throughout the team.

I truly believe Keller will build off of his great second half last season.  He will be the Pirates best pitcher in 2023 and one of the best pitchers in the National League.  I'm excited by a lot of the moves the Pirates made this offseason.  I also look forward to the steps taken by the young prospects like Cruz, Contreras, and Castro.  But I'm most looking forward to seeing Keller build off of his 2022 success.  Don't forget about him.