Houston Astros starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel flipped the proverbial switch back in 2014. After beginning his career in the major leagues with two lackluster seasons, he posted a 2.93 earned run average, 3.21 fielding independent pitching, and 5.0 wins above replacement. He then improved upon those numbers in 2015 by pitching to the tune of a 2.48 earned run average and a 2.91 fielding independent pitching, and even struck out 70 more batters than he did in 2014. His wins above replacement total for the year ascended to 7.2, cementing his superstar status in baseball. The Cy Young award that Keuchel won testifies that his 2015 season was truly an unmitigated success.
Heading into 2016, the sky was assumed to be the limit for the Astros’ unquestioned ace. Nothing in his repertoire pointed to future regression: his sinker, which he was using with increasing constancy with each passing season, was as lethal as ever, his strikeout rate was on the rise, his walk rates were among the best in the league, and he was in his prime at age 28. However, 2016 was a season plagued by inconsistency from the Astros’ most reliable pitcher. His ERA+ dropped precipitously, his earned run average ballooned to 4.55, his strikeout rate descended, and he allowed exactly one hit per inning pitched.
After this sharp decline in performance, Keuchel seemed destined to head into the 2017 season with an uncertain slate ahead of him. However, recent news helps give hope that 2016 might only have been an aberration for the left-handed Tulsa, Oklahoma native. On February 15, 2017, Keuchel admitted that he dealt with “major inflammation” in his rotator cuff throughout all of the 2016 season. His injury could have severely impaired his ability to pitch to his full abilities.
Keuchel further stated that he feels “like a brand new guy” after resting the entire offseason. Now injury-free, Keuchel will look to get his career headed in the right direction again. He boasts serious bounce-back potential heading into the 2017 season, and the Astros will need him to again reach his ceiling in order for them to make the playoffs. Keuchel has already begun throwing bullpen sessions at the Astros’ new training complex in Palm Beach County, Florida since he reported to Spring Training.
Even with Keuchel’s disappointing season, the Astros finished with a 4.06 team earned run average in 2016, which was the 11th best in all of baseball. With an expected rebound from Keuchel and this season’s rotation looking more potent than last year’s rendition, pitching will surely play a major role in helping the Astros best their 84-78 win-loss record from the prior campaign.
Keuchel will spearhead a rotation composed of himself, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers, and Charlie Morton. These five men will be backed up by players such as Joseph Musgrove, Brad Peacock, and top prospect Francis Martes in the minor leagues.
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