2021 Bust Alert: Is Dallas Keuchel Facing A Significant Regression?

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There was reason to be skeptical about Dallas Keuchel in his first year with the White Sox, but in the shortened season he ended up posting spectacular surface numbers:

63.1 IP
6 Wins
1.99 ERA
1.09 WHIP
42 Strikeouts (5.97 K/9)
17 Walks (2.42 BB/9)
52.8% Groundball Rate
.255 BABIP

There clearly was some luck at play, given the BABIP and 81.6% strand rate. While he was limiting the hard contact (25.3%), does anyone really believe that he can maintain either number over the long haul? That risk of regression alone is going to raise the red flag, but it’s obviously not the only issue.

The lack of strikeouts is also glaring, and while it’s not a complete surprise (7.11 career K/9) that’s not going to give him a pass either. Keuchel’s sinker, which has never been a high velocity pitch, averaged a career worst 87.45 mph in ’20 (down from 88.31 in ’19). You have to wonder if that drop in velocity had an impact on his ability to generate swings and misses on his other pitches, as his Whiff% on his two key pitches both took a step back:

  • Changeup – 17.71% to 15.73%
  • Slider – 15.49% to 14.29%

Then you have the groundball rate, which was solid but also not an elite mark. If Keuchel isn’t going to get many swings and misses he needs to get the groundball rate back up, but considering he was throwing his sinker less than ever before is that something we are willing to bet on? Just look at the usage over the past few years:

  • 2017 – 53.19%
  • 2018 – 41.16%
  • 2019 – 48.87%
  • 2020 – 32.53%

So there’s a lack of strikeouts, a lack of elite groundball stuff and good control. Does that really sound like the recipe for success?

It’s not to say that Keuchel can’t surprise us once again, but there appears to be a far better chance that he disappoints as opposed to thrive in 2021.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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