Former Pirates right-hander Kyle Keller has signed a deal to join the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, MLBTR has learned. Keller is expected to compete for closer responsibilities with the Tigers.
The 28-year-old Louisiana native spent the 2021 season with the Pirates, logging a career-high 33 1/3 innings over 32 appearances with a 6.48 ERA/6.95 FIP. Keller had previously seen time in the Majors with the Angels in 2020 and the Marlins in 2019.
Keller was originally an 18th round draft choice of the Marlins back in the 2015 draft. After making his Major League debut in 2019 in 10 outings with a 3.38 ERA as a 26-year-old, he was traded the following winter to the Angels for Jose Estrada. The Pirates purchased his contract in April of this past season. After shuttling between the Majors and Triple-A, he was released to free agency in November.
The Hanshin Tigers will give Keller high-leverage opportunities. That might surprise at first blush given his 2021 numbers, but Keller fared much better in Triple-A, where he posted an impressive 1.96 ERA in 18 1/3 innings. Combined, Keller struck out 30.0 percent of opposing batters while walking 11.1 percent of batters, suggesting he certainly has the potential to be a potent arm if he can limit free passes.
Keller combines a 94.5 mph heater with a hook that generated a strong 34.7 percent Whiff rate. He mixes the two offerings fairly evenly to lefties and righties. He has been prone to keeping the ball up in the air, generating just a 29.9 percent groundball rate in his Major League career.