Mitch Keller was among the more highly hyped prospects entering the 2019 season, with many dubbing him one of the elite in the game. However he never quite found his footing in the Majors, yo-yoing back to Triple-Abefore gaining some much needed late season experience. The question is whether or not he can turn this disappointing performance into a dominant 2020 season, or are the poor numbers going to carry over.
Before we can answer that, let’s take a look at what he did do in the Majors last season:
65 Strikeouts (12.19 K/9)
16 Walks (3.00 BB/9)
39.2% Groundball Rate
Keller showed strikeouts and control, something he had also displayed throughout his minor league career. In 103.2 IP at Triple-A he posted a 10.7 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9, and with an 11.8% SwStr% there’s no reason to question these numbers. The obvious issues were:
- Poor Luck
- Potentially Home Runs
Whether or not he can improve there will be key. It’s easy to envision an improvement in his BABIP as well as his 59.6% strand rate, regardless of the underlying numbers. When you factor in that he wasn’t hit overly hard (35.9% Hard%), it just further supports the improvement. The “luck” numbers are going to be better, and that alone will make a significant difference.
The potential home run issue is a little bit trickier, as he wasn’t completely burned by it last year with a 1.13 HR/9. However a 39.2% groundball rate does raise some justified questions. While he may never be an elite groundball artist, he has shown more coming up through the minors:
- 2017 – 48.9%
- 2018 – 47.0%
- 2019 – 44.7%
At the very least that would give us hope that he can maintain the HR/9 he posted last season. With the other numbers/upside, it would be more than enough.
When you look at the numbers by pitch, it’s obvious where the another improvement needs to come from (AVG / SLG):
- Fourseam Fastball – .461 / .719
- Slider – .200 / .289
- Curveball – .138 / .138
Part of the issue may have been the lack of the usage of his changeup, having thrown it 4.5% of the time in ’19. As MLB.com noted prior to the season:
“He’s worked hard to improve his changeup, and while it’s still not as good as his two plus offerings, it gives him a third Major League average offering.”
Clearly he wasn’t comfortable using it last season, and as a result opponents were able to tee off on his fastball. Further improving the pitch, and in turn utilizing it more, would help to keep opponents honest and off balance. With that, as well as the other numbers, the results will be there.
In other words while last season was a disappointment, don’t be surprised if 2020 he becomes dominant. Keller was highly hyped for a reason, and it almost feels inevitable that he backs it up and produces. Don’t make the mistake of writing him off, because you should ultimately regret it.
Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Brooks Baseball, MLB.com