- Rating: 3.28
- 2022 stats: 18 G, 17.0 IP, 16 H, 13 R, 10 ER, 5 HR, 3 BB, 15 SO, 5.29 EEA, 5.88 FIP, -0.6 bWAR
- Date of birth: September 12, 1993 (29 years old)
- 2022 earnings: Minor-league contract
- 2023 status: Removed from 40-man roster earlier this month, cleared waivers and opted for free agency.
Keynan Middleton was one of the more experienced players signed to a minor-league contract last winter. Over five seasons, he had appeared in 136 games for the Angels and Mariners, with a decent 3.84 ERA (ERA+ 112). He had Tommy John surgery in May 2018, and his numbers took a notable dip after his return from that in late 2019. He made the news in July 2020 for kneeling during the National Anthem, and spent last season in Seattle. Middleton had a 4.94 ERA over 32 games and 31 IP, with a K:BB ratio of 24:19, though his FIP was close to half a run better, at 4.49. He chose to become a free agent at the end of 2021, after being outrighted off the Mariner’s 40-man roster, and signed for us in mid-January.
He began the season working out of the Aces bullpen in Reno. After allowing one run across 7.2 April innings, Middleton got called up to the majors on April 29th, after Mark Melancon went onto the injured list. However, his debut as a Diamondback did not go well. He came in to the seventh inning of a game in St. Louis, to try and preserve a 5-4 lead, but Harrison Bader, the first hitter faced in Sedona Red, smacked a two-run homer, and Nolan Arenado also went deep off Middleton later in the inning, as Keynan took the loss. He did settle down, pitching four hitless innings with a walk and three strikeouts over the next couple of weeks.
That’s where things started to go south. He went onto the injured list himself on May 17th with inflammation in his right elbow - never an area you want to hear about, after a pitcher has had Tommy John surgery. He was rested for a couple of weeks, and then returned to the Reno bullpen, where he spent the month of June. He seemed a bit disgruntled about this, saying after his July return: “I never got an explanation of why I went down. So honestly every day was a struggle showing up to the field. I was throwing really good. I wasn’t giving up runs. My ‘velo’ (velocity) was higher than it was since I’ve been here (with the Diamondbacks). I was kind of defeated, to be honest. I didn’t know why I was down there.”
Still, Middleton was beginning to see higher-leverage situation, and was enjoying it, saying “I come into the game with runners on in a tie game. It’s the type of stuff I live for. It fires me up.” Keynan pitched well in July, allowing no earned runs over 6.1 innings, with a K:BB of 5:1. But once again, he was bitten by the injury bug, apparently rolling his ankle while pitching the ninth inning for the first time this year (albeit while up by seven runs). Another trip to the injured list followed, with three weeks missed before he began his rehab stint. That was completed just in time for rosters to expand at the beginning of September, and Middleton was brought back onto the 25-man roster.
This third and final stint did not go as well, his season ERA ballooning from 1.64 to 5.29. In six innings of work, he allowed ten hits, including three home-runs, leading to eight earned runs. Adding injury to insult, Middleton then ended the season on September 18 with his third injured list stint, this time somehow managing to sprain his left big toe. That’s rare. The only comparable case of of a pitcher enduring that, was Jordan Lyles back in 2015. [Jose Bautista did it in 2016, but that was after getting his foot caught in a fence, trying to make a catch] Arbitration eligible, the D-backs chose to take him off the 40-man roster instead: he cleared waivers and opted, as last winter, for free agency.
Health-wise, I guess it’s a good thing the multiple injuries this year, do not appear to be connected. The elbow one is perhaps the most concerning, given his history, but there’s no subsequent indication this is a recurring issue. MLB Trade Rumors had Middleton predicted to earn $1.1m in arbitration this year. It’s possible he can return to the D-backs for a lower amount, or on a minor-league contract, but I imagine Keynan will want to see what the options are elsewhere. There were times where Middleton looked pretty good, assembling a 10.1 innings streak without giving up an earned run. Yet when he was bad... he was very bad. I’ll happy to trust whatever direction Mike Hazen goes, in terms of bringing him back.