Dallas Keuchel has certainly had an eventful 2018 season thus far. At times, he has not looked like himself and voiced his frustration to the media wondering if he was tipping pitches, but in other games like last night, he’s looked like the dominant pitcher we’ve all seen in the past. Through a few months so far this year, the reality is Keuchel has not been as bad as Houston Astros fans really think.
Keuchel currently holds a 3.90 ERA (26th in the AL among qualified starters) in 97.0 innings. This may not be All-Star stuff, but that’s not what we need. With the way the other members of the Astros rotation are throwing, Keuchel is the number five starter. In any other organization, a sub-4 ERA is good enough or preferred for a fifth starter.
Some fans have called for Keuchel to be traded. This simply is not the logical course of action to take right now. The one thing the Astros should even consider trading for this season is a closer, and it wouldn’t make sense to send Keuchel in a deal for a closer. Teams that are going to be selling closers at the deadline are going to want prospects, not a 30-year-old in a contract year with Scott Boras as his agent. Furthermore, we clearly are in a win-now mode so there is no sense in trading him for prospects as we are not looking to get younger or bolster the farm system.
Keuchel is currently a victim of his own, and his team’s, success. He is coming off an All-Star year where he posted a 2.90 ERA and helped lead the team to the World Series. There is no doubt that he has had a sluggish start but hasn’t he earned the opportunity to work himself out of it? Last night’s six scoreless innings looked like a step in the right direction.
The crafty lefty certainly will not blow it by anybody these days as he relies on his command to get people out. Although it has been subtle, when you look at his heat maps his command has been off. Below is a comparison of Keuchel’s fastball (2-seam, 4-seam, Cutter) location in the 2017 season (top) compared to the 2018 season (bottom)
There are two take major differences from these two maps, arm-side vs, glove side location and keeping the ball down. In 2017 Keuchel almost solely kept the ball down to his arm side. In 2018, he has tried to work both sides of the plate and has missed up in the zone. These slight misses are huge when you do not have the velocity to blow people away. Both his two-seam and his cutter will get more movement and depth when they are located down in the zone as well.
Although Keuchel’s stuff is not as good as the other members of the rotation he has the ability to out-craft hitters unlike anyone else. Pitching to both sides of the plate could be a good thing for the lefty and probably is not the reason he has struggled at times this year. If he can make the adjustment of getting his pitches down towards the bottom of the zone he should return to the dominant pitcher that he was back in 2015 when he won the Cy Young.
Keuchel was the ace of the Houston Astros staff when they first burst on to the scene in 2015 and has stuck around to give us fans plenty to cheer about. He has earned our patience and should be able to work through this rough start that really is not as rough as it seems. Our staff is so good that we do not need him to be the Cy Young level pitcher he was in 2015. The Astros should hold on to him the rest of the season, let him figure himself out, and then see what his price is in free agency. At the end of the day he’s earned the opportunity to work through this stretch.