5 Things to Know About Dallas Keuchel's 2015 Season
By now, you're probably familiar with Dallas Keuchel, the American League's starting pitcher for tonight's MLB All-Star Game. Unlike most successful pitchers, he pitches to contact, most of which comes in the form of grounders that won't make it out of the infield. Here are some stats to provide more insight into his success in the 2015 first half.
Legendary Against Lefties
Check out some noteworthy stats that differ based on batter handedness for Keuchel below.
Platoon splits are natural and expected, so there’s nothing to really worry about here. In fact, his being so dominant against left-handers that it makes him look bad against righties by comparison. Keuchel allows more line drives to righties, and his wOBA allowed is over 100 points higher to those hitters. But check out how nasty he can be to lefties.
Keuchel’s .160 wOBA versus lefties is by far the best in the league this year, as second-place Hector Santiago is currently at .220. Searching through the last 10 seasons and using pitchers qualified to win the ERA title, only Randy Wolf at .195 in 2009 was the last pitcher to break the .200 mark over a full season. It's worth noting that Chris Sale had a .183 mark in 2014, facing 128 left-handed batters on the year. So far, Keuchel has faced 118 left-handed batters.
According to FanGraphs, hitters are making contact on 90.9% of Keuchel’s offerings in the strike zone, which to my surprise, ranks only 13th in baseball. This means that Keuchel is really generating his swings-and-misses on pitches outside the zone. His 64.0% O-Swing%, or contact on pitches outside the strike zone, is third-best of pitchers in the top 30 of Z-Contact%, behind only A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole.
What matters just as much as the contact allowance is what happens with the generated balls in play. Keuchel’s 24.8% soft contact rate is the second-best in MLB, trailing Francisco Liriano. And no pitcher in the top 30 of soft contact rate allows fewer hard hit balls than Keuchel (just 20.2%).
Part of this is due to the fact Keuchel has consistently improved to the point where he is an excellent contact manager. He has increased his ground-ball rate every season he has played in the majors, from 52.1% in 2012 all the way to his current 64.1%.
Piling Up Strikeouts Without Intent
Despite his increase in strikeout rate by roughly three percentage points to a career-best 21.3%, Keuchel still considers himself a pitch-to-contact hurler. He told FanGraphs’ David Laurila that he’ll “take [his] odds of them hitting the ball to somebody” and that that “pitching to contact is about not being afraid.”
“I’ll never try to miss a bat unless there’s a runner at third base and less than two out,” Keuchel told Laurila. “I will always try to pitch to contact, because I want to keep my pitch count low and go deep in the game. I’ll take strikeouts when I get them, but I’m not looking to miss bats.”
This is refreshing. So many pitchers are blowing their arms out from overuse or overexertion, but it looks like Keuchel has managed his success while a) going deeper into games than others and b) minimizing his risk of injury.
Pay attention, DFS players. Keuchel has been dominant at home this year, with his May 15th matchup against the Toronto Blue Jays being the only time he has allowed more than two runs at home. He allowed four runs in sixth innings to the best lefty-mashing lineup in the league, so that isn’t too bad in context, either.
However, he hasn’t been the same on the road, allowing a wOBA 66 points higher. In his nine starts outside Minute Maid Park, he has allowed three or more runs five times. Still good, just not as good.
When Not in the Windup, His Performance Suffers
Like many other starters, Keuchel is best out of the windup, allowing a .223 wOBA with no runners on base. With runners on, that number balloons to .284. It's a bit of an underrated aspect of pitching; having to pitch out of the windup and stretch effectively to start. Keuchel's discrepancy between the two states is certainly not the largest, but is not the smallest.
I'm a little intrigued to find out whether Keuchel’s profile as a heavy ground-baller is responsible, or if he just pitches better out of the windup and without a runner to worry about. But that is for another time. Watch the All-Star Game, and enjoy Keuchel pitching on a national stage for an inning or two.