Pirates manager Derek Shelton told reporters, including Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this afternoon that right-handers Mitch Keller and Roansy Contreras would not pitch again this year, as both players have been shut down for the remainder of the 2023 campaign. With the Pirates well outside the playoff picture and just three games remaining on the club’s schedule after today, the news isn’t a major surprise, though it’s worth noting that Keller was otherwise lined up to take the ball for the club’s final game of the season against the Marlins.
The news officially brings to an end what has been a strong campaign for Keller, who sits atop Pittsburgh’s starting rotation. The former second-round pick struggled badly through the first three seasons of his big league career, with a 6.02 ERA that was 28% worse than league average by measure of ERA+ with a 4.30 FIP in 170 1/3 innings of work (39 starts). Things began to turn around for Keller last season, however, as he posted a solid 3.91 ERA (104 ERA+) with a 3.88 FIP in 159 innings of work. While Keller’s 20.1% strikeout rate and 8.7% walk rate last year didn’t exactly jump off the page, he did generate an impressive 49% groundball rate in 2022.
Despite it being his fifth season as a big leaguer, Keller was still just 27 years old headed into the 2023 and appeared to be in the midst of a breakout campaign for much of the season. While his 2023 began with a four-run, 4 2/3 inning clunker against the Reds, Keller fired off nine consecutive starts with three earned runs or fewers allowed, including a complete-game shutout of the Rockies and a 13-strikeout game against the Orioles where he posted seven scoreless innings.
Keller’s strong start to the season earned him his first career All Star appearance, and he headed into the break with an impressive season in the works: across nineteen starts before the Midsummer Classic, Keller had a 3.31 ERA and nearly matching 3.32 FIP in 117 innings of work with a 26.7% strikeout rate against a walk rate of just 7%. Unfortunately for Keller, his excellence wouldn’t continue into the second half. Over his final 13 starts, Keller mustered just a 5.59 ERA with a 4.52 FIP in 77 1/3 innings of work, with his strikeout rate during that time dipping to 23.8%.
The late-season struggles brought Keller’s final line for the 2023 season in line with his 2022 campaign, albeit with more innings: in 32 starts (194 1/3 innings), Keller posted a 4.21 ERA (105 ERA+) with a 3.80 FIP. Still, if Keller can replicate his strong start to the 2022 campaign next year, Pirates fans have plenty of reason for excitement about the 27-year-old righty’s future. Keller is arbitration-eligible this offseason and won’t be a free agent until the 2025-26 offseason.
Contreras, on the other hand, failed to build on a solid 2022 campaign where he posted a 3.79 ERA and 4.38 FIP in 95 innings of work. The 23-year-old righty struggled badly in 2023, with a brutal 6.59 ERA with a 5.19 FIP in 68 1/3 innings of work with a strikeout rate of just 18.2%. The youngster’s struggles resulted in him being demoted from the rotation in late May and spending a portion of the year at the Triple-A level, where he similarly struggled to a 4.96 ERA across 32 2/3 innings. Given Contreras’s pronounced struggles this season, it seems reasonable to expect the former top-100 prospect to enter camp next year on the outside looking in with regards to the club’s rotation plans, though given his youth and previous success he should still factor into the club’s pitching mix one way or another.