Dallas Keuchel is the ace of the Houston Astros. The bearded lefty has led the team's charge on the postseason. With a Cy Young award calibre season, he has been nothing short of special. It's been a great, great season. There is, however, one minor anomaly: the home run ball.
The Houston Astros live for the ground ball from their pitchers. If the ball is on the ground, it isn't doing too much damage, it isn't leaving the ballpark. Yes, more hits will be yielded, but the damage should be limited. Keep the ball on the ground, hit home runs and win ball games has been the Astros' mantra on the season.
Keuchel is a ground ball master. Leading the American League (second in all of baseball), with a resounding GB% of 61.8, Keuchel has been doing what he does best; keeping the ball on the ground. However, paired with his American League leading GB%, is an abnormally high HR/FB%, which is strange, to an extent.
The idea of getting ground balls is to limit the big damage; to limit the big hits. Keuchel has been inducing more ground balls than any other of his American League counterparts, yet is yielding a home run on 13.7% of fly balls (the eleventh highest among all starters in baseball, fifth in the American League).
Furthermore, Keuchel has also been excellent at suppressing exit velocity. Among pitchers with at least 50 ABs worth of data, according to Baseball Savant, Keuchel ranks 37th in opponents exit velocity, with hitters mustering a mere average of just 85.91 miles per hour. Soft contact, lots of ground balls.
So, why is Dallas Keuchel allowing so many home runs?
It seems like a huge contradiction to the Astros' pitching mentality. I mean, if the king of ground balls is allowing so many home runs, are they really limiting the damage? If Keuchel is getting stung so badly, so often, are the ground balls really working? Yes. Yes they are.
The relationship between the two can't be overstated. The high GB% and high K% has fueled Keuchel's remarkable season. The home runs are merely an anomaly. The byproduct of just 16 bad pitches on the year, paired with 16 good swings. That's 16 bad pitches met with good swings out of 3271 pitches, so far this season, according to Baseball Savant.
Without the high GB%, the low exit velocity and the high K%, I doubt, somewhat, that Dallas Keuchel would be pitching to the tune of a 2.51 ERA, a 2.90 FIP and a 2.74 xFIP. The home runs, certainly, aren't ideal. Without them Keuchel would, most likely, be the hands down favourite to take home Cy Young honours (usurping current favourite, David Price).
But, just because there is one hole in his otherwise outstanding game, by no means discredits the importance of ground balls to Keuchel. He may not be limiting home runs to an extent he would like, but he has been limiting damage, period. Opponents have slugged just .315 against Keuchel, the seventh lowest mark in all of baseball.
You probably weren't even worried about his abnormally high HR/FB%, in honesty. But, in case you were, worry no more. Next year, when it creeps back down toward the league average mark of 10%, Keuchel will be on for an even better season, believe it or not. The one hole in Keuchel's game this season will regress towards league average. All hail, Dallas Keuchel.