Dallas Keuchel was saddled with his ninth loss of the season after Sunday’s 5-0 defeat against the Tampa Bay Rays. The left-hander now stands at 3-9 with a 5.54 ERA, light years away from the 2.48 mark that earned him the American League Cy Young award in 2015. And while some might argue that his poor start is because of factors beyond of his control, it’s also clear we aren’t seeing the same pitcher from last year.
“I don’t believe in bad luck,” Keuchel said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s just the way it’s going. So I’ll stick with it, and I would like for it to turn around. If anybody’s got any ideas, that would be great.”
I’ve got a few.
Keuchel has struggled with all of his pitches, but his cutter — a pitch used primarily against right-handed batters — is most complicit in his problems. In 2015, he did a good job of locating the pitch under the hands of right-handed batters consistently enough to prevent them from driving the ball.
Now that command is gone, and, as a result, Keuchel has surrendered eight hits, five for extra bases, in 30 at-bats this season. But it’s not just right-handed batters who are hurting Keuchel: After reducing his extra-base-hit percentage in three consecutive seasons, it is now up to 8.2 percent, a career high, with nearly a third of all hits against him good for extra bases.
Extra-base hits are always a problem for a pitcher, but when you are also allowing a higher percentage of runners on base, it makes it even worse. Keuchel is getting caught with a higher percentage of 3-0 counts this season, and while it is only a slight uptick (3.7 percent vs. 3 percent in 2015) he has already issued eight four-pitch walks this year after never issuing more than nine in any one year during his career. That has ballooned his OBP against to .339. It was .262 last season.
All this adds up to Keuchel providing the Astros with just six quality starts in 14 outings (43 percent), his lowest rate since his rookie year.
On the bright side, Keuchel is still striking out over eight batters on average per nine innings, and ERA estimators such as FIP (3.81) and SIERA (3.59) agree he is better than his current 5.54 ERA suggests. But if he doesn’t get a handle on his cutter soon, the Astros might not be able to rely on him as their ace.