Dallas Keuchel is doing his best impersonation of a past Cy Young winner. It just so happens that this particular Cy Young winner happened to also be Dallas Keuchel.
Roughly one calendar year ago, the Astros were floundering. Quite badly I might add. It was somewhat amazing that they eventually rebounded to win 84 games last season. Anyway, the Astros weren’t a good team at various points last year. The struggles, and later absence, of Dallas Keuchel were a reason why the Astros weren’t a particularly good baseball team. Especially in April, oh my, last April was truly a mess to watch.
Fast forward to May 1st of the current year and the Astros have essentially flipped the script from April of 2016. Their 16-9 record in this most recent edition of April was quite good. Good enough to hold a three-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels and at least a five-game lead over everyone else in the AL West. This success can be partially linked to the resurgence of Dallas Keuchel.
It’s no secret that a healthy, and effective, Keuchel is imperative for the Astros. Without him pitching this well, Houston may not be currently leading the division. So what has helped Keuchel regain his form in 2017? Well, he is, by all appearances, keeping his pitches lower in the zone this season.
Please note that the 2017 heatmap, which is located above on the right, is through Keuchel’s April 25th start.
As you can tell, Keuchel did not have much success keeping the ball down last April. His 4.41 ERA reflects as much. Surprisingly, Keuchel’s FIP last April was 3.09. His groundball and fly ball numbers for April was not out of line either. The only noticeable spike was the line drives, which isn’t good for a groundball pitcher like Keuchel.
Thus far in 2017, we have seen the groundballs jump to nearly 63% and the line drives decrease. Keuchel has been able to keep the ball down in the zone once again, which is similar to his 2015 season. Or, do I dare say, better.
The next test for Keuchel lies in the month of May. For as much noise that Keuchel’s disappointing April of 2016 generates, it was the month of May that truly drove home the narrative that something wasn’t quite right with him. Between the 6.63 ERA, .500 SLG allowed, 5.08 FIP and 24.1% HR/FB rate, there was a lot not to like about his performance.
If April is any indication of how the season progresses for the bearded southpaw, then the Astros should feel encouraged. The question all offseason wasn’t the lineup or the bullpen, no, it was the starting rotation. The return of an effective Keuchel helps alleviate the concerns of this early season contender.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**