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Money Mitch: Keller becomes Pirates all-time single-season strikeout leader

Keller surpassed AJ Burnett for first place on the team’s strikeout list in a single campaign.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Philadelphia Phillies Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Mitch Keller’s story is one of determination and perseverance.

Gone are the days of being statistically the worst starting pitcher in baseball. Gone are the days of lacking confidence and a questionable future in the bigs.

Enter a completely new Keller, etching his name into the history books. On Tuesday night in Philadelphia, Mitch Keller became the Pittsburgh Pirates’ all-time leader in strikeouts in a single season with 210, surpassing AJ Burnett’s 209 mark from 2013.

The 27-year-old righty struck out Phillies outfielder Nick Castellanos looking to grab the franchise record (since 1887).

Burnett said no remorse is necessary for him after seeing his record broken and expressed how proud he is of Keller after what was likely his final start of 2023.

Keller struck out six over six innings of work and allowed two runs on three hits and two walks in a no-decision. The Pirates would ultimately lose 3-2 in 10 innings.

He became the 9th pitcher in Pirates National League history to reach 200 strikeouts, per Pirates broadcaster Joe Block, and tied Gerrit Cole (2015) for possession of second place in franchise lore. No Pirate had ever reached the 200 strikeout mark before ‘Batman’ Burnett did so 10 years ago.

By once again delivering six strong innings of work, Keller recorded his 31st-consecutive appearance of five or more frames in a year, tying him with John Candelaria (1980) and Paul Maholm (2008) for 5th on the Bucs’ all-time rankings.

Keller pitched to the tune of a 13-9 record, 4.21 ERA, .249 opponent batting average, and 1.25 WHIP in 32 starts. He’s currently tied for 4th in the NL and 8th in all of baseball with 210 strikeouts due in large part to his deceptive fastball. The pitch ranks in the 88th percentile for fastball run value by Baseball Savant, averaging 95 mph and deploying the 4-seamer 26% of the time. He also relies heavily on the cutter at a 24% rate and sinker near 23%.

The revitalized pitch mix with the cutter and sinker significantly improved Keller’s results, thus creating a path toward a sustained run at the top of a rotation for years to come. Whether that involves pitching at PNC Park on a regular basis remains to be seen. Keller is arbitration-eligible for the next two seasons, among rumors a long-term deal has been discussed. A deal should get done and would SIGNIFICANTLY assist the Pirates in stabilizing a young and inexperienced pitching group.

Keller shaped himself into a dependable right-hander the Pirates can depend on to defeat the best of the best. Paired alongside Paul Skenes and the emergence of Johan Oviedo, the 210-strikeout man has put himself on the map as Pittsburgh’s All-Star and, the Pirates hope, a shining star to glow through a PNC Park blackout in October baseball on the North Shore once more.