I just cleaned out the back row of the fridge, and since it wasn’t really all that stinky I figured I’d look at something that I knew would disgust me … Dallas Keuchel’s stats over the first 2 months of the 2016 season. I’m a huge Keuchel fan, and as a former left-handed, finesse pitcher I love watching him on the mound, but so far it has been a love-hate endeavor following Keuchel this season.
After taking huge strides in 2014 and positioning himself as a legit front-line MLB starter, Keuchel took those gains and ran with them all the way to the 2015 AL Cy Young award. He won AL pitcher of the month 3 out of the 6 months, didn’t lose a home game all season and was an integral part in giving the Astros their first playoff berth in 10 years.
Once in the postseason, Keuchel continued to dominate: pitching 6 scoreless innings in Yankee Stadium to secure the wildcard victory and then pitching 7 innings of 1 run baseball to give the Astros a victory in game 3 of the divisional round and putting his team just one win away from the league championship round. The Royals would go on to win that series and eventually win the World Series, but the Astros surprisingly earlier than expected announced to the rest of the league that the rebuild was over and they would appear to be a team on the rise that could contend for pennants for a good stretch of time with a solid, young core of players.
The 2016 season arrived with big expectations, world series championship predictions and a lot of excitement, but things haven’t gone as planned for the Astros or for Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel has particularly struggled this season, and as the undisputed Ace of the staff it has really hurt the team’s ability to consistently win ballgames. He, no doubt, is not the only player underperforming, but this article will try to present a bevy of statistics to present a deeper view into what is happening when Dallas Keuchel takes the mound this season compared to last season and 2014. The primary emphasis will be on some "basic" advanced stats, batted ball profiles, pitch usage, batted ball profiles and plate discipline. A few opinions will be offered, but this is primarily meant to be a collection of data that you can use to draw your own conclusions and then to discuss in the comments.
In part two of this series I will delve into Keuchel’s heat maps for 2015 and 2016 to date in an effort to figure out if Keuchel has adjusted his strategy to account for issues that we will discover and speculate about in this part of the article.
All information was gathered from fangraphs, and I have included screenshots of their website (moderators if that is a legal issue please address and I apologize for not knowing).
Please refer to fangraphs glossary for information on what these stats mean, what they track and how they are calculated.
This is my first stab at some serious advanced stat analysis, so if you see errors in my analysis and my following assumptions please explain so I can learn more about what I’m doing in regards to using advanced stats.
There are a lot of spreadsheets in this article so get ready.
Many of you are fully aware of these, but they have been included to set the stage for some of the other more detailed stats that many of us may not have investigated. They only reinforce the fact that Keuchel is not performing as well as he has in the previous two years. I know, who woulda thunkit!
Some highlights - basically every stat on that sheet has moved in the wrong direction compared to last season. More home runs, more walks and less K’s aren’t good, but he has a .40 increase in BABIP over 2014 and .66 increase from 2015. His left on base rate is significantly lower than the two previous years, also. Some things would make you believe he will regress back into the direction of his 2014 and 2015 seasons but most likely will not for any extended period of time return all the way to that level of dominance. He has recorded an xFIP (not shown on this graph) of 3.2, 2.57 and now a 3.37 over the last three seasons, and that 3.37 xFIP compared to an ERA of 5.54 supports the thought that he should have some positive regression, possibly significant improvement.
Notice that his usage of the fastball and slider are almost identical in 2014 and 2015, but this season he is throwing the fastball less often and relying more on the cutter and slider. His use of the changeup has gradually decreased over this period of time. I’m new to PITCHf/x data, but I think those numbers basically supports these observation, also.
As discussed, his fastball velocity is down about 1.5 mph so far this season when compared to 2014 and 2015. Interestingly, it spiked in those two seasons at a little less than 2 mph compared to his debut season of 2012. It is now basically the same velocity as it was in 2012, and the results are quite similar to his performance that season. That 1.5 to 2 mph drop in fastball velocity may not seem like much, but as has been discussed a lot lately that level of decrease at 88-90 mph is probably a lot more damaging than losing the same amount at 95 or even 92 mph. I do not think a decrease in velocity of less than 2 mph can be the only factor involved in Keuchel’s struggles, though, but I suspect it is one of the larger underlying issues.
Batted Ball Profile
Less ground balls, less soft and medium contact and a 9% increase in hard contact when comparing this season to last season. His home run per flyball rate has risen significantly from 2014 and 2015 and is now at a career high level. Notice that other than significant differences in soft and medium contact rates, which basically swapped each other’s changes, his batted ball profile looks a lot like it did during the 2013 season. These changes are not good for an extreme groundball pitcher and a solid inducer of weak contact. Keuchel was an elite, hell arguably an elite plus, ground ball pitcher in the previous 2 seasons, and is still a very, very good ground ball pitcher but that 4-6 percent drop is not a good thing. Note the xFIP, xFIP- and SIERA all suggest improvement is on the way but not to the level of 2015 production.
2014 and 2015 are almost mirror images of each other until you get a little bit more variance towards the second half of the table. 2016 doesn’t seem all that different than the two seasons prior other than a 1.5 to 2 percent decrease in outside the zone swing rate. I am not sure that level of change would have a significant impact on performance, though.
Dallas Keuchel’s basic rate stats for HRs, Ks and BBs and therefore, how they compare to each other have all moved in the wrong direction this season compared to 2014 and 2015. His WHIP has increased .42 when compared to last season, which means a lot more baserunners. A decreased fastball velocity has most likely lead to the approach of throwing less fastballs and more cutters and sliders. The batted ball data shows a decrease in ground balls of about 5%, a decrease in soft and medium contact of 2.8 and 5.9 %s, respectively, and a 8.9% increase in hard contact. Those changes in batted ball outcomes when combined with one another seem to be significant problems to me, but I am no expert on batted ball data (paging Reillocity). In regards to plate discipline stats, I do not see anything that really stands out when compared to the previous two seasons.
Maybe, the most telling thing that I noticed in sifting through all this data is the amount of times the stats compare very similarly to Keuchel’s 2013 season. That is alarming, but it makes sense because that is very much the way his performance has bore itself out, to date, at least.
It is important to note that it was probable before opening day of 2016 that Dallas Keuchel would never repeat the dominance he displayed in 2015. Pitchers just do not repeat stellar seasons like that very often, unless of course they are truly some of the best to ever grace the mound in the most competitive baseball league in the world. Combine that with the fact that Keuchel had a very similar season in 2014, despite the fact that he had a lot less national media coverage and did not play on a contending team, and you have to consider that Keuchel really already repeated such a high level of dominance once. Again, not a common thing to see and even more reason to expect that he would drop back down to earth, so to speak. With that said, it doesn’t mean that Keuchel’s drop in performance and value impacts the chances of the 2016 Houston Astros making the playoffs any less. Over the offseason, it appeared that the front office was not overly concerned about a dropoff for Keuchel or they were unable to make a deal to strengthen the starting rotation. However, they were comfortable enough to swap out several solid starting pitching prospects/options for an elite, flame-throwing reliever.
There are multiple signs that Keuchel may be turning a corner and getting his season back on the rails, as his xFIP, xFIP-, SIERA, babip and runners stranded rates all suggest that he could experience improvement over the remainder of the season but not the level of performance he saw in 2015. In his last 3 starts, he has thrown some very good innings, but each game has been spoiled by Keuchel falling victim to one big or damaging inning. If he can find a way to limit the damage when the opponent puts some base runners on and threatens to score a few runs, he should be on his way to righting the ship, so to speak. There are reasons to be positive about the rest of the season for Dallas Keuchel.
Look for the 2nd part of this article focusing on Keuchel’s heat maps for the 2015 and 2016 seasons in the near future.
What do y’all think? Let’s discuss what these numbers mean for Dallas Keuchel to date and moving forward.