Is Dallas Keuchels’ performance sustainable with the Houston Astros?


Dallas Keuchel (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel looks to continue his terrific season when he takes the mound against Jason Hammell (1-5, 6.75 ERA) and the Oakland Athletics (77-53) tonight. 

Keuchel is 10-9 on the year with a 3.12 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 125 strikeouts, and just 40 walks in 24 starts (164.1 innings). The 26-year-old left-hander has broken through and become the ace of the Astros (55-77) staff this season while surprising many people around baseball along the way.

This morning, ESPN Insider Keith Law wrote about 10 MLB players who have broken out this year and can sustain their success into future seasons. (He picked five starters and five position players.) Here’s what Law had to say about Keuchel:

"Keuchel’s turnaround this year, from up-and-down starter to borderline All-Star, has been pretty well documented, although the way Houston pitching coach Brent Strom managed to turn him and Collin McHugh into viable major league starters has to give the team and its fans some hope going forward. Keuchel used to work with a fringy four-seamer that he’d leave up in the zone and a below-average curveball that did him no favors at all. Now he’s sinking the fastball, staying away from the upper third of the strike zone, and his slider is big and sharp and a weapon against left- and right-handed batters. If you don’t walk guys (he cut his walk rate by about a third this year), miss some bats and keep the ball in the park, you’re going to sit at or near the top of a lot of rotations."

Note: For these breakthroughs, Law considered: 1. Players who were no longer rookies to start 2014 and 2. Players who either established a substantially higher level of performance, or who established themselves as everyday players/mid-rotation starters when they were previously part-time or extra players.

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I think it’s great to see Astros pitching coach Brent Strom receiving credit for his work this season. He has done an excellent job with guys like Keuchel, Brett Oberholtzer, Colin McHugh, Scott Feldman, and Chad Qualls throughout the year. The Houston Chronicle’s Evan Drellich wrote about Storm’s effect on Keuchel, especially when it comes to his motion and pick off move, in a very interesting piece this weekend.

Keuchel is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in four starts since tossing a four-hitter opposite Hammel on July 30th. However, in his most recent start against the Yankees, Keuchel pitched a complete game and only gave up three runs in the Astros shortest game of the season. In the end, the Astros ace was out-dueled by Brandon McCarthy‘s complete game shutout for the Yankees. Keuchel has also been very impressive against Oakland this season, especially Josh Reddick who is 1 for 11 all-time against him, so tonight’s game should be interesting as well.

Overall, I think Law is correct to pick Keuchel as a player who can sustain his success beyond this season. Last year, Keuchel was 6-10 with a 5.15 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 123 strikeouts, and 52 walks in 22 starts (153.2 innings). However, this year, the lefty has set numerous career-highs and leads the Astros in almost every pitching category. I know injuries can always happen, so nothing is guaranteed, but I think Keuchel will continue to be a top-notch starter for Houston beyond this season.

"A look at Dallas Keuchel’s stats:Record: 10-9 (team leader in wins)ERA: 3.12 (team leader)Innings: 164.1 (team leader)Hits: 158Walks: 40Strikeouts: 125 (one behind McHugh for team lead)WHIP: 1.20WAR: 3.7 (team leader)Starts: 24 (team leader)Quality Starts: 16 (team leader)Complete Games: 5 (AL leader, includes one shutout)"