Chicago Cubs Triple-A Pitcher of the week: RHP Caleb Kilian (25 Years Old)
1 G, 5 IP, 1.80 ERA, 3 H, 2 BB, 6 K
Could this have gone to Ben Brown this week? Absolutely. Should it have gone to Brown he struck out nearly twice as many batters in only an extra third of an inning. Perhaps. However, as one of the two main pieces in the Kris Bryant trade to San Francisco, and someone that had a season in 2022 similar to Brown’s 2023, it was important to see Kilian bounce back this week after David Ross said he “wasn’t ready” for the big leagues earlier this season.
Last year at AAA Kilian pitched 26 games and had a K/9 of 10.55. He was walking too many at 4.98 BB/9, but he was striking guys out, and even with a bloated BABIP of .356, he was stranding runners 71.2% of the time thanks in large part to a high ground ball rate. All that being said, Kilian has greatly reduced his walks this season by nearly two batters per nine innings, decreased his BABIP by more than 80 points, and is stranding runners at a higher rate.
Even with all of those advanced metrics working in his favor, Kilian has a higher ERA (4.45) compared to last year (4.22) and when looking at FIP (6.53 in 2023 compared to 3.76 in 2022) and xFIP (5.63 in 2023 compared to 4.15 in 2022) it’s even more lopsided. So that begs the question: What can Kilian do to be better?
The short answer is he needs to strike more guys out and give up less hard contact. He may be walking fewer guys, but in doing so he’s also striking out more than three fewer batters this year than last year. Beyond that, even with that insane 80% strand rate he has this year, he’s giving up more runs because he’s giving up nearly four times as many home runs per nine innings this year than he was last year.
This week Kilian did what we needed to see from him. He struck out more batters than innings pitched and he didn’t allow a home run in the three hits he gave up. If Kilian can induce weak contact, he seemingly has the skills to strand the runners on base, he just needs to limit the long ball and he did that this week. Let’s hope he does it again next week.