Looking at the Control Problems of the Houston Astros’ Ace Dallas Keuchel
Much of the hope surrounding the success of the Houston Astros in 2016 has been placed on the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel to lead the Astros staff. The bearded left-handed pitcher took a big step last year, becoming one of the most reliable pitchers in the game. Keuchel has been pretty consistent over the years, walking about 50 or so batters each season averaging 2.58 walks per nine innings. Last season, he averaged 1.98 walks per nine innings.
This season, in two games pitched, he has allowed three runs in both starts, one a win and one start a loss. Keuchel already has ten walks allowed this year, which is one-fifth of what he has allowed in the entire 2015 season. This stat represents 7.38 walks per nine innings rate this year, which will not allow him to stay in too many games long. This walk percentage is such a drastic change from the 2015 season to the 2016 season.
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I know that he has about 28 more starts this year, so it is not a large enough sample size. His first start you can blame the lack of command on the near freezing temperature on the Astros 2016 road opener in New York. While Keuchel won’t use that as an excuse for why he struggled, it had to be a factor. The second game was yesterday against the Brewers, where Keuchel walked four batters in the first inning while striking out the side and allowing two runs. He mentioned that he was not comfortable with his grip on the ball.
Also, Keuchel has started both games uncharacteristically wild in the first inning. Even with his reputation, you are not going to get the borderline calls if he looks wild to start the game. I read many complaints on Twitter about the strike zone during Keuchel’s two games, and he’s just not as sharp as he was last year or in spring training to start the season.
Those were the nonstatistical viewpoints of why he has struggled, let’s take a look at the sabermetrics differences between 2015 and 2016 so far. Last season, Keuchel had a career-high percentage of batters who swing at pitches out of the strike zone with 33.7%. Through two starts this year, he has dropped to 22.2%, which means more hitters are taking those pitches more regularly.
Conversely, more batters are making contact against Keuchel on pitches outside the strike zone increasing from 62.4% in 2015 to 76.9% so far in 2016. Because batters are not swinging at the outside pitches as much, Keuchel has to throw more strikes inside the strike zone which has increased his percent of pitches in the strike zone from 38% in 2015 to 44.6%.
Most of his pitches speeds are down a full mph or so, which could lead to the pitches not having the same movement like they did last year. It’s too soon to start to panic, Keuchel still has the stuff to be the ace the Astros need, he’s just getting warmed up. You have to expect some regression this year, but I don’t see this lack of command continuing for too long this season.
Look for him to regain his confidence in his next home start versus the Tigers. Speaking of which, did anyone else wonder if the Astros should have pitched Collin McHugh Sunday? He did not throw a lot of pitches in his shortened first start, and you could have had Keuchel pitch twice this week at home.
**Stats and percentages are from Fangraphs**