First, I tip my hat to Jim McLennan for his roundtable question that inspired this article.
Will Dallas Keuchel stick as our #5 starter?
My short answer was “Yes.” My longer answer follows.
What challenge is Dallas Keuchel facing?
“In this case, I’d say the decline [of Dallas Keuchel’s performance] occurred a little more precipitously at the end than we anticipated.” — Rich Hahn, GM of White Sox
My view is that in the absence of an injury, a precipitous drop is more likely a signal to make an adjustment than a sign of age-related decline. Supporting reasons for my view follow:
- Dallas Keuchel is much more athletic than the average pitcher. He has 5 Gold Gloves, which requires athleticism.
- “I thought Keuchel was good, [his] cutter, sinker, change. I thought he was pretty sharp... he’s throwing the ball better than that [his slow start this season] would suggest.” — Aaron Boone, Yankees manager
“Pitchers are often deemed the unathletic guys, but Buehler and I are trying to get that stigma off.” — Dallas Keuchel
What adjustments will lead to renewed success by Dallas Keuchel?
Let’s look at mind set, team defense, first pitch swings, and his cutter.
He has a great mind-set that contributes to making adjustments needed for success.
- “…you have to reinvent yourself every five days to be who you want to be.” — Dallas Keuchel
- “I’m always thinking. I’m always thinking ahead of what’s on the field,…” — Dallas Keuchel
- He has high expectations of himself and his teammates. Although this attitude can make him seem arrogant, especially when he called out his teammates in 2020, this attitude can help him succeed.
He is a pitch to contact type of pitcher (high % ground balls, and low strike out rate). His pitching results can be improved with a better plan that coordinates defense, pitch type, and pitch location. That coordination is an area of Diamondbacks emphasis.
He wanted first pitch swings, and this season he accomplished that aim. In the last two seasons, his first pitch swing percentage increased from 24.9% to 28.2%, to 30.6%. This season though 11 June, he broke above the league average of 30.3% first pitch swings (Data from Baseball Savant).
“…first pitch swings, ground balls. I mean [they] really [are] all I wanted.” — Dallas Keuchel
In his last 2 seasons, his use of the cutter fell from 31% to 24% to 17% (data from Baseball Savant). That does not seem good because cutters have a late break that often causes the batter to make soft contact (exactly what Dallas Keuchel wants)! Although its effectiveness dropped (based on RV/100 and wOBA), instead of reducing the frequency of cutters, much better would be to improve his cutter. I am confident that Brent Strom can make that happen. And its not just Brent Strom. The Diamondbacks have a pitcher (Mark Melancon) and a former pitcher (Dan Haren) who are on a list of 8 pitchers with the best cutters in history per this article.
Where will Dallas Keuchel fit in the D-back Rotation?
With Brent Strom as their new pitching coach, let’s look at how much four Diamondbacks’ starters improved compared to the three prior seasons. The following graph shows that his ERA+ would likely improve to 75. The actual improvement could be more, especially because great mind-set.
An improvement in ERA+ to 75 would mean that Dallas Keuchel and Humberto Castellanos would be roughly equal. Dallas Keuchel would fit in as the #5 starter in the rotation. The situation with Humberto Castellanos available for spot starts would be more than acceptable.
The precipitous drop in Dallas Keuchel’s performance was not due to age-related decline because he is very athletic and because how well he throws the baseball. Four reasons that adjustments will be effective are his great mind-set to reinvent himself, the Diamondbacks will provide a better plan, his first pitch swing rates are above average, and an improved cutter will make a huge impact. With Brent Strom coaching him, anticipate an improvement of ERA+ to 75 or more. With that improvement, Dallas Keuchel would fit in as the #5 pitcher in the Diamondbacks’ rotation.