Welcome to episode two of the Pirates Playoff Projections series!
If you read my intro to the Bucs Dugout site back in July, you’ll remember that I’m a big fantasy baseball fan, which makes me a bit of a numbers/projections guy at times. I still use the eye test plenty to help me find players I like, and there’s nothing quite like enjoying a Pirates baseball game with the emotional interest of a lifelong fan, but I love the statisical, fantasy side of the game as well.
With that in mind, I thought it might be a worthwhile project to start projecting what key Pirates players will need to do in 2020 if the Bucs are going to shock the league and end up in the playoffs come October. I know, I know, it’s a stretch based on the season we all just witnessed. But with a new manager and staff coming soon, I figured it’s a good time for some optimism.
Each week I’ll pick a player and go through what their 2020 season might look like under the assumption that they’re able to help lead the black and gold to their first playoff appearance since 2015. Let’s go Bucs!
The best Pirates pitching prospect since Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, Mitch Keller showed some glimpses of greatness in 2019 and will have big shoes to fill in a depleted 2020 Pittsburgh rotation.
After a few rough outings to start his major league tenure, Keller slowly started showing Pirates fans the massive strikeout upside that AAA followers were raving about. In his final six starts, he sported a massive 13.84 K/9 rate and walked just six batters in 26.2 innings pitched. His 2.38 xFIP suggests that the 17 runs in that span were quite unlucky, so don’t get too attached to that inflated 5.74 ERA and 1.69 WHIP over the last six games. He ended up with a .475 BABIP for crying out loud!
The biggest hurdle for Keller to clear, from what I can tell, will be longevity. That will probably fix itself a bit when the xFIP and BABIP (hopefully) start normalizing opposing batting averages, but we can’t have a top-of-the-end arm throwing just five innings consistently. That’s the case for every team, but it’s especially the case when you throw Chris Archer back into the rotational mix. If Keller and Archer are both failing to reach quality start status, the bullpen will be fried in no time.
You can go back to my deep dive on Keller’s first MLB win if you want some more in-depth perspective of why his approach can work at this level, but all-in-all I feel he’s more than capable of making this step. Will it be in 2020? I really can’t say, but the Pirates fans and front office are really hoping it is, especially if a magical playoff run is in store.
Mitch Keller 2020:
25 games started
10-7 record (8 no-decisions)
135 innings pitched, 168 strikeouts (11.2 K/9)
3.93 ERA and 1.21 WHIP
What do YOU think? Give me some over, under, or just rights down in the comments below. I’m also always happy to hear your thoughts on more in-depth statistics like HR/FB, xFIP, BABIP, and more. Hope you’re all having a good offseason so far, and I’ll be back next week to tackle another Bucco stat line for 2020. Until then, Let’s go Bucs!