What Are the Reasons for Dallas Keuchel's Success?
The Houston Astros and their second-best record in baseball are a huge surprise here in 2015. And there's no doubt that the Astros have reached this level of success with the help of a relatively young pitching rotation built around Dallas Keuchel.
In a rotation of great potential, Keuchel leads the pack as the ace because of his great command and efficiency.
Numbers This Season
Thus far, Keuchel has been pretty dominant with a 7-1 record and two complete games.
According to FanGraphs here’s his current stat line:
The only outliers are his BABIP and LOB%. His BABIP is .230, so that should see some regression since the league average is .293 and his career average is .296. His LOB% is currently 80.7%, when his career average is 72.3% and the league average is 72.8%.
There’s not a huge disparity between his ERA and FIP though, so what he’s doing appears to be sustainable despite the BABIP and LOB% numbers.
Ground-Ball Rate and Command
Keuchel definitely didn't come into the league with guns blazing in 2012, but he’s gradually developed into a highly effective pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls, living off the corners of the plate.
From 2012 to now, he’s improved his ground-ball rate from 52.1% to 64.2%. He currently ranks second in ground-ball rate behind Brett Anderson (68.2%).
Normally, such a high percentage above the league average would be a red flag, but Keuchel’s rate is actually consistent with his numbers last year.
It’s easy to induce such a high rate of ground balls when you live off the corners as much as Keuchel does. He consistently throws low and away to hitters, and it explains why his Hard % is at a career low 18.3%.
Here’s a look at his heat map against right-handers.
Here’s his heatmap against lefties.
The heat maps provide great visuals to show how he’s been so effective against opposing hitters and produced these splits thus far.
His command is truly impeccable, and it's definitely a significant factor in his development as a pitcher.
Improved Situational Pitching
Just like Gerrit Cole, Keuchel has improved tremendously over the course of his career with runners on base and runners in scoring position. There's an evident trend of improvement that can be seen in his situational stat lines.
|Men on Base||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA|
|Men in Scoring||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA|
Composure and effectiveness are easy to maintain when there aren’t runners on base, so Keuchel’s improvements are just another reason to admire the ace.
Pitch Usage and Effectiveness
Since Keuchel paints the corners, it’s no surprise that the pitch with the highest usage and GB% is his two-seam fastball with 81.2%. He’s obviously faced a lot more righties than lefties, so that explains his two-seam heat map, shown below, and it’s focus on the corner low and away.
The one pitch he consistently uses against righties is his changeup. This trend is something that he’s continued since last year, and rightfully so, as it’s proven to be successful. According to BaseballSavant.com, he’s only given up 10 hits on his changeup to righties this year.
Keuchel uses his slider relatively the same amount against righties and lefties, and he’s greatly effective with his location. He consistently throws the ball down and in to righties, and low and away from lefties.
The main takeaway from his pitch breakdown is that he’s highly effective against hitters because of his command. He’s displaying his ability to be a well-rounded pitcher who trusts his defense to support him after hitting his spots with great accuracy.
There’s a big difference between being a thrower and a pitcher, and Dallas Keuchel is showing how to be an effective pitcher without throwing 95 MPH.
Expect Keuchel to maintain his success as long as he continues to induce a high ground-ball rate and hit his spots. There will be some regression with his BABIP and LOB%, but don’t let that deter you from buying into the exceptional pitcher that Keuchel is.
He’ll continue to provide consistency at the top of Houston’s rotation and put the team in the best situation to win each and every one of his starts.