First Pitch: How Much Value Can Keone Kela Gain This Season?

Keone Kela is the new closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s a move that was expected, but made official yesterday.

Kela is only under team control through the 2020 season, so it makes sense to elevate his role this year. The Pirates aren’t going to be contending in 2020, which means the most likely outcome for Kela is a trade at some point in the season.

I wrote yesterday about what new center fielder Jarrod Dyson can do for the Pirates, noting that his biggest contribution is likely going to come from his defense. We didn’t have a photo of Dyson, so I used Chris Archer for the featured image in that article. Archer is the guy who has the most potential future value compared to where he’s at now.

I’d put Kela right behind him. Adam Berry reports (in the link at the top of the article) that Kela will be used in a traditional closer’s role. I don’t like that approach from a competitive standpoint, as I believe using your best pitcher in that very limited and specific role doesn’t give your team the best chance to win.

That said, if you’re looking to build the value of a reliever in the best way possible, the closer role might be the best option. Sadly, the game still accepts that it’s a skill to close out ball games, and that the three outs in the ninth inning with a three run lead or less is more challenging than a tie game with the bases loaded and your starter struggling in the sixth inning.

Kela will have a chance to build his value in the closer’s role. Dyson can help him a bit. Kela’s 41.9% fly ball rate was fourth highest on the team last year out of pitchers with 500+ pitches. The guys ahead of him are Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz, and Kyle Crick.

Kela, and the other fly ball heavy pitchers, can benefit from Dyson roaming center field, while also keeping Bryan Reynolds in left, where his defense is better. By the late innings, with a lead, the Pirates could also turn to Guillermo Heredia in right field over Gregory Polanco.

I don’t think fly balls will play a huge impact though, as the BABIP on fly balls isn’t high to begin with. The BABIP on line drives, however, is extremely high. Line drives typically go to the middle of the field, and in PNC Park you have a much bigger outfield with strange angles to navigate. Having a speedy, elite defender in center field can help turn triples into doubles and doubles into singles without having to go to extreme shifts.

The impact here isn’t going to be huge either, but it’s there. The entire combination of an easier, default closer role for Kela, plus a stronger outfield defense, and Jarrod Dyson’s speed up the middle is a good mix to raise Kela’s value.

I’m not saying this is specifically the plan of the Pirates to set up this situation, but it is the reality of the situation. We’ll see how this all plays out by the end of July.





By John Dreker

Seven former Pittsburgh Pirates players born on this date. Starting with the youngest first:

Al Grunwald, pitcher for the 1955 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent prior to the 1947 season. He began his career as a first baseman, but seven years later he was switched to the mound, where he went 9-3 2.89 in 21 games (19 starts) in the minors. He made the Pirates out of spring in 1955, although he would’ve liked to forget his first game. In the fourth inning on April 18th, with the Pirates already trailing 5-0 to the Giants, New York sent five men to the plate and hit for the cycle against him. Both inherited runners scored and Grunwald allowed four runs of his own before being pulled. He pitched 5.1 innings of scoreless relief in his next appearance two weeks later, then threw two scoreless innings against the Giants during another blowout loss a week later. He went back to the minors and returned to first base while still occasionally pitching. The Pirates sold him to the Kansas City A’s during the middle of the 1957 season and he made one more brief appearance in the majors during the 1959 season. He went on to play baseball in Japan following the 1961 season.

Pete Castiglione, third baseman for the Pirates from 1947 until 1953. He was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1940, but he lost a good portion of his early years while serving in the military during WWII. After three years of service he returned for the 1946 season and hit .342 in 134 minor league games. The Pirates then sent him to Indianapolis of the American Association where he spent the next two seasons, making a September appearance with the big club each year. In 1949 he made the club out of spring and played a total of 118 games (98 at third base), while hitting .268 with 57 runs scored. In 1950 he hit .255 in 94 games and made starts at all four infield positions. The following year he was again the regular third baseman for most of the year, getting 94 starts. He played 134 games on the year and set career highs in runs (62) hits (126) and home runs (7) while posting a .261 batting average. He played 67 games in 1952 before an injury sidelined him for the season. He struggled in 1953 and the Pirates would end up trading him in June to the Cardinals for outfielder Hal Rice. Castiglione played parts of two seasons for St Louis before going to the minors, where he finished his career in 1958.

Bobby Rhawn, third baseman for the 1949 Pirates. He got a late start to his Major League career due to almost five full seasons serving in the military during WWII. Rhawn had played 63 games over three partial seasons with the Giants when the Pirates acquired him on June 6, 1949 for an aging pitcher named Kirby Higbe. He started at third base during his first two days with Pittsburgh, going 1-for-7 with an error, before he went to the bench. He pinch-hit three days later, then was put on waivers, where he was picked up by the Chicago White Sox. After 24 games with the Sox, they traded him across town to the Cubs, who sent him to the minors. Rhawn played ball until 1952, never making the majors again.

Oadis Swigart, pitcher for the 1939-40 Pirates. He began his minor league career in 1935. Four years later, he went 17-10 3.90 for Knoxville of the Southern Association, when the Pirates decided to give him his first chance at the majors in September of 1939. He made three starts during the last 20 games of the year, all during doubleheaders. He had a poor first start and didn’t do any better his third time out, allowing seven runs in each game, but in between those two starts he would throw a 7-0 shutout over Boston. He made the 1940 Pirates squad out of spring, but was being used only in mop-up work, getting four relief appearances in which he allowed seven runs in 4.1 total innings. They sent him down to pitch for Syracuse of the International League, bringing him back up for three September appearances, including a 2-1 loss in which he pitched eight innings without allowing an earned run. He then served in the military until 1946, when he would return for just five games in the minors before retiring from baseball.

Herman Layne, outfielder for the 1927 Pirates. He was a star hitter in the minors, batting at least .341 in each of his five seasons prior to being picked up by the Pirates. Pittsburgh paid a heavy price for him, acquiring him from Toronto of the International League for $30,000 and two players. The planned on giving him a starting job, but he was beaten out by a rookie named Lloyd Waner in Spring Training. Layne went to the bench for the first two months of the season, getting just one start before the Pirates returned him to the minors. He would spend the next seven seasons in the minors, never returning to the big leagues despite a minor league career average of .327 in 1,696 games. For the Pirates he went 0-for-6 with a walk and three runs scored in 11 games.

Harl Maggert, outfielder for the 1907 Pirates. The Pirates drafted him in the 1906 Rule 5 draft after just one season in pro ball. Maggert spent most of 1907 playing for the Wheeling Stogies of the Central League, where he hit .270 in 111 games. The Pirates called him up in early September and he played just three games over the next month, two in left field and one off the bench. He went 0-for-6 with two walks and a stolen base. It would be five more seasons before he was finally able to pick up his first Major League hit while playing with the 1912 Philadelphia Athletics. Maggert spent 14 seasons in the minors and collected over 2,000 hits. He is the father of Harl Maggert who played for the 1938 Boston Bees (Braves).

Frederick “Crazy” Schmit, pitcher for the 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. As you may know, the 1890 team was by far the worst team in Pirates franchise history. They used a ton of players to get through that season and Schmit was one of seven pitchers to get at least ten starts. It was a group that won a combined 16 games. Schmit went 1-9, 5.83 in ten starts and one relief appearance. He was an eccentric player who drank a lot and moved around from team to team even more, playing for 22 different teams from 1889-1896. The Alleghenys were bad in 1890, but the Cleveland Spiders were even worse in 1899 and Schmit made 19 starts for them on their way to a 20-134 season. He went 2-17 that season and had a 7-36 career record in the majors.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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