Back in 2015, "Diamond" Dallas Keuchel reached main event status capping off the best season of his professional career en route to winning the American League Cy Young. These days, Keuchel's fall from grace has him looking more and more like a low-level mid-carder that is simply there to fill a spot. There was always going to be risk with Keuchel when the White Sox signed him to a three-year contract prior to the 2020 season. Let's face the facts: Dallas Keuchel is not the prototypical starting pitcher in 2021. He doesn't have high-octane "stuff," and he doesn't miss bats, which always puts him on the cusp of danger.
Many people looked at the fancy 1.99 ERA from the abbreviated 2020 season and thought that he was back to his Cy Young-caliber ways. However, 2021 has shown us that, if anything, he is more suited to serve as a back of the rotation arm than someone the White Sox can rely upon to handle a crucial game in October. With about six weeks to go in the regular season, it is my hope that the White Sox begin handling Keuchel in the manner that will best position him and, ultimately, the team for success.
There are a number of reasons for Keuchel's poor season in 2021. The biggest issue has been the erosion of his stuff and his command issues both in and out of the strike zone. The fact of the matter is that power is what drives performance in baseball today. That power is evident with the high strikeout rates across the league. One place you won't find that power is with Dallas Keuchel. In fact, he has the lowest K/9 rate since his initial cup of coffee with the Astros during the 2012 season.
To make matters worse, the aforementioned command issues have manifested themselves in a HR/9 rate (1.52) that is the highest of the southpaw's career and a BB/9 rate (3.03) that is one of the worst of his career. Seemingly every start, Keuchel endures one inning where things go awry and he simply cannot locate the cutter and before you blink three or four runs are on the board. The combination of declining velocity and an inability to spot the cutter where he needs to has been the kryptonite for Diamond Dallas this season.
Given all of this, and I'm going to repeat myself, it is incumbent upon Tony La Russa and Ethan Katz to not over-extend Keuchel in hopes of getting him deeper into games. He simply doesn't have the ability to do that at this point.
I'm going to be very blunt here. Dallas Keuchel should never face a hitter for a third time in any game regardless of his pitch count. We have enough data here in 2021 to understand that his stuff simply doesn't hold up well enough to prevent hitters from doing damage the more they see him.
Time Through the Order
1st Time Through
.214/.286/.401 .299 wOBA
2nd Time Through
.277/.333/.445 .337 wOBA
3rd Time Through
.295/.373/.486 .372 wOBA
As you can see above, with each successive look that opposition gets against Dallas Keuchel their propensity to do damage offensively greatly increases. Yes, this is true for just about every pitcher in the league, but the stark increase in offensive production against Keuchel each time through the order should be sounding the alarm bells for Tony La Russa and Ethan Katz. This is not a firestorm the White Sox want to see come October against the likes of the Houston Astros, Tampa Bay Rays, or New York Yankees.
One encouraging sign of late is that perhaps the White Sox brain trust sees this problem as clearly as we do. This past Monday in his start against Oakland, Keuchel completed five innings of two-run ball throwing a mere 78 pitches. He was promptly lifted from the game after facing 21 hitters in favor of the Bullpen A-squad, consisting of Michael Kopech, Craig Kimbrel, and Liam Hendriks. This formula proved effective as the White Sox secured a 5-2 victory in the opening contest of a four-game series against the Athletics.
This is simply the formula that should be employed every time Keuchel takes the mound going forward in the regular season. Should the White Sox be in a position where they have to start Keuchel in a game this October, it will be paramount that he not be overextended given the explosive offenses the Sox will likely have to go through in order to advance deep into the playoffs.
The Diamond Dallas Keuchel experience will continue through the end of the 2021 season, and, theoretically, the 2022 season given he has another guaranteed year on his deal. However, the time has come for the White Sox to begin handling him with care as he is not capable of providing the length in games that they expected when they signed the veteran southpaw coming into last season.
Plans have to change, and this is one such instance. The pitcher the White Sox thought they were getting isn't here, at least not in 2021. Maybe there can be some sort of reinvention this offseason that can salvage the final year of this deal, but if the Sox are serious about making a run deep into October they need to limit the exposure Dallas Keuchel has to opposing hitters.