A few weeks ago we examined the struggles of Matt Harvey. Harvey, however, is not the only ace that has struggled this season. Dallas Keuchel looks nothing like the pitcher we saw a season ago, when he won the American League Cy Young Award.
Last year, Dallas Keuchel went 20-8 with a 2.48 ERA. He had a BB/9 of 1.98, only surrendering 53 free bases all season. He also only gave up 0.66 HR/9.
This season has been a completely different story. If last season was the dream, then this season has to be the nightmare. Keuchel currently sits at 3-9 with an ERA of 5.32. So what happened? What’s different this season?
It’s apparent that Keuchel’s issues stem from control problems this season. Keuchel commanded the strike zone last season. He was able to get ahead in the count and then force batters to chase. That hasn’t been the case this season. Batters are hitting .273 against him, after scraping together a .216 average last season. His walks are up. He’s given up 31 walks so far this season and his BB/9 has climbed to 2.76. And he’s also given up 11 home runs, after only giving up 17 last season.
Moreover, Keuchel’s control is essential to combat his lack of velocity. His fastball is only averaging 88.2 mph this season. While it’s possible to be successful without having overwhelming velocity, it requires a pitcher to be much more precise. It becomes much more difficult to get away with mistakes. Combining a lack of velocity with control issues is a recipe for disaster.
Keuchel also appears to be throwing his fastball less. Last season he threw it 56.1% of the time, but now he’s only using it 50.9% of the time. He’s turning to his slider and cutter more instead. This could possibly be due to a lack of confidence in his fastball. According to FanGraphs, his wFB is currently -6.2. It’s going to be hard for any pitcher to be successful without their fastball working. It makes it almost impossible to set up your other pitches. And as a result, almost all of Keuchel’s pitches have been less effective this season, except for his cutter which has stayed consistent when compared to past seasons.
The Astros, as a whole, have had a disappointing season to date. While, only 34-36, this was supposed to be a big season, the season that they become true contenders. They made a great run last season, losing to the eventual champions in the Division Series. But, if they want to have any chance of getting back to October, Dallas Keuchel is going to need to figure it out, and figure it out quickly.
Stats courtesy of FanGraphs