Courtesy of Fortify Franchising

Stats ‘N’ At: Faith in Keller, Mason’s checkdown, blue-line depth ☕

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Mitch Keller, Mason Rudolph, John Marino -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

From drafting and developing prospects, to acquiring established big-leaguers, to in-game strategy, the Pirates' overall approach to pitching is under fire.

One beacon of hope in this wasteland -- one in which Jameson Taillon is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Chris Archer is vastly underachieving, and Gerrit Cole is punching out a dozen batters per game for the Astros -- is Mitch Keller. Keller has the power stuff (mid-90s heat and two sinister breaking pitches) and minor league track record (including more than 10 Ks per nine innings pitched at Triple-A) to profile as a top-of-the rotation arm. He might be the only guy in the entire system with that kind of talent, short of 2019 first-rounder Quinn Priester. If Keller doesn't succeed, this already-reeling franchise might not get off the mat for years to come.

That's why Keller's rookie season, at least on the surface, was so distressing.

While he finished on a strong note, he compiled a 7.13 ERA in 48 innings spread over 11 starts. His park and league-adjusted ERA was 40 percent worse than the overall MLB average (60 ERA+). Among rookie starting pitchers who tossed at least 40 innings during the Expansion Era (1961-present), Keller has the 18th-worst adjusted ERA ever. Among Pirates rookie meeting that innings threshold, only Tyler Glasnow (56 ERA+) was worse. That's not a comparison anyone wants to make around these parts--at least the Pittsburgh version of Glasnow.

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