Not much has gone right for the Pittsburgh Pirates lately. Since August 1, the team is 7-13. On the season, they are 63-65. Playoff hopes are all but dead as the Pirates sit 7.5 games back of the second wild card spot. In terms of bright spots during this cold stretch, look no further than Keone Kela.
Don’t get me wrong, the Pirates’ pitching staff as a whole has been solid for quite some time now. As we know, the offense has been nothing short of pathetic since their 11-game win streak. If this team could’ve hit just a little bit over the past three weeks, talks of contending would still be alive and well.
But here we. The Pirates have scored 68 runs in August, good for 27th in baseball during that stretch. This team just isn’t good right now.
This article is not about how bad the Pirates have been lately. We’ve all tortured ourselves enough watching this dead ball era brand of baseball. No this is about Keone Kela, the setup man nabbed from the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline for minor league pitcher Taylor Hearn and a PTBNL.
Since joining the Pirates, Kela has pitched ten innings while giving up one lone run. He has 13 strikeouts and three unintentional walks in that span. Opponents are hitting .176/.243/.324 against him.
Kela’s stuff is nasty. His fastball sits at about 96-97 mph and his curveball is nothing short of pure filth. On rare occasion, he will sprinkle in a changeup.
Interestingly enough, Kela has relied on his curveball more since joining the Pirates. While on the Texas Rangers this season, Kela used his fastball 64.2 percent of the time. With the Pirates, his fastball rate has dropped to 57.8 percent. Because of that, his curveball usage has increased from 35.3 percent to 40 percent.
Kela has gotten a higher rate of swinging strikes since joining the Pirates (17.8 percent to 12.1 percent). Opposing hitters are also swinging at more pitches out of the zone and less pitches in the zone.
In my mind, the key to Kela’s success with the Pirates has been a combination of joining a new league while also using his curveball more. That plus having incredible stuff has given the Pirates a lockdown backend of the bullpen arm.
For the future
Kela has two years left of team control after this season. The combination of him, Felipe Vazquez, Edgar Santana, Kyle Crick, and Richard Rodriguez may have given the Pirates a lethal backend bullpen for years to come.
All of these pitchers are cheap. They are all controllable. They all have been very good this season with a chance to become elite in the future. Vazquez is already elite. If Kela isn’t already elite, he’s darn near close.
As we know, bullpen arms can be extremely inconsistent from year to year. I think it’s safe to say that Vazquez is the real deal and will be great for the Pirates for the next five years. Kela has been fantastic in three of his first four seasons. He is as close to a sure bet as it gets.
If one or two of Santana, Crick, and Rodriguez continue to progress, the Pirates will have a top bullpen in all of baseball. If a wild card such as Micheal Feliz pans out, this unit will be even stronger. All that’s needed is a true left-handed specialist. Steven Brault could and should transform into that guy as the need for his services in that role exceed the need for his services as starting pitching depth.
The Pirates bullpen took a huge step in the right direction in 2018. Adding Kela gives this unit a chance to become special.