Dallas Keuchel’s New Slider Still Looks Good

I asked twitter if I should write about Dallas Keuchel, Marcus Semien and Jonathan Schoop, or Brad Miller, and they spoke definitively: what’s going on with Brad Miller? So I wrote up Brad Miller and then I discovered that Blake Murphy had done the same. So he might include some of my charts and analysis, he might not, but we were too similar.

And I start again, with the second-most requested topic: Dallas Keuchel, come on down!

Keuchel was one of my pre-season deep league favorites, based on pitch-type peripheral analysis. What I noticed last year was that he’d turfed a bad curve for a good slider. He continued that trend this year. Take a look at the swing and ground-ball rates on his curve and slider over the last three years:

Year Pitch Use Velocity Whiff% GB%
2012 Curve 15% 72.3 5.9% 52.6%
2013 Curve 6.70% 75.5 9.0% 52.0%
2014 Curve 80.2
2012 Slider 84.1
2013 Slider 19.50% 80.0 20.3% 50.8%
2014 Slider 21.50% 80.5 20.6% 37.5%

I’ll take a pitch with above-average whiff rates and average ground-ball rates over a pitch with average ground-ball rates and below-average whiff rates. And so will Keuchel. The new slider goes faster than his old curve, and it also breaks away from lefties.

That last point is huge. Keuchel’s best pitch was his change-up. We have him with a 13% whiff rate on the pitch in 2012, but BrooksBaseball had him at 16% — let’s call it an average change-up for whiffs (15% = average). The pitch is more than ten miles per hour slower than his fastball, and features good horizontal movement.

But the change-up has reverse platoon splits, and that can be problematic even for a lefty. Ask Martin Perez. With the curve not really working for him, and not really boring away from lefties, the move to the slider made a lot of sense. In 2012, lefties hit .237/.333/.417 off him (.231 BABIP). In 2013, with the slider, they hit .273/.327/.423 but with a .360 BABIP. The BABIP hid what the per-pitch metrics showed.

So now, the slider is getting tons of whiffs, and the change-up is looking better. That’s probably because he hasn’t thrown a single change-up to a lefty this year. He doesn’t have to, he has weapons against them now with the sinker and the breaker.

Given his arsenal, it’s tempting to name him a pickup in all leagues. He has a sinker that gets 66% ground-balls, an above-average change-up for righties, and a plus slider for lefties. That’s all he needs!

Wander on down to his zone percentage, though, and you might get worried. Not even 35% of his pitches are in the zone! The good news is that it might not matter. Keuchel’s ball rates on his off-speed stuff aren’t good — perhaps he’s still trying to command them better — but his two-seamer (according to BrooksBaseball) gets a 25% ball rate, which is elite. That’s how he’s put up elite walk rates in the minors. He’s also getting strike one 65% of the time, which is sustainable and excellent.

Keuchel only throws around 90 mph, so don’t drop an established pitcher for him. But as a guy that gets ahead on strike one and gets grounders with a sinker he can command, and then has two putaway pitches that break in different directions, this lefty is a mixed leaguer now.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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centerfield ballhawk
centerfield ballhawk

Great writeup, Eno. You’ve touted him all year and after watching some of his last start I’ve walked away impressed. A rising strikeout rate, added velocity, three quality pitches that he seems to have complete control over… and he’s just 26 years old.