Dallas Keuchel (and Brent Strom) on Dallas Keuchel

Twelve months ago, Eno Sarris wrote a great piece on how Dallas Keuchel grips each of his pitches. Today, hours before the Houston Astros ace starts for the American League in the All-Star game, we’ll take a look at his approach. We’ll do so with Keuchel’s own words, as well as those of his pitching coach, Brent Strom.

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Keuchel on setting up hitters: “When I go into a start, I’ll definitely look at the scouting report. I’ll watch video and make assessments of each hitter. But it’s also important to have a feel for what you’re doing and to command the ball to both sides of the plate. If I’m confident about a pitch that differs from the scouting report, I’ll try to execute that pitch to the best of my ability.

“You’ll see some of the smarter pitchers set-up guys, even though I don’t like the term “set-up.” If you can command your pitches away, say a fastball and a changeup away, then you can set hitters up for a fastball inside that they’ll take for a punch out. You can get feels for that during the course of a game.

“Setting hitters up is kind of the cat-and-mouse game you always hear about. A pitcher is always in control of what’s going on. The hitter has to react off of the pitcher. I think sometimes the cat-and-mouse game is taken too literally, as opposed to just attacking and going off of what you see. It’s always one pitch at a time. You can get an out on any pitch you throw.”

On pitching to contact: “I’ll never try to miss a bat unless there’s a runner at third base and less than two out. I will always try to pitch to contact, because I want to keep my pitch count low and go deep in the game. I’ll take strikeouts when I get them, but I’m not looking to miss bats.

“I’m not trying to throw to the middle of the plate. Actually, I’ll contradict myself. Sometimes I am. If I’m throwing my two-seam, looking for early contact, at times I’ll try to throw it down the middle. I’ll take my odds of them hitting the ball to somebody. Pitching to contact is about not being afraid.”

On working with pitching coach Brent Strom: “Pitching coaches who put too much emphasis on chatter in between starts, or on mechanics and switching up deliveries – the ones who do that put too much pressure on a pitcher. Strommy doesn’t do that. He kind of sits back and evaluates what’s going on before he’ll say anything. That’s the way he’s been since he got here, and guys appreciate that. Guys have more fun in between starts, knowing he’s not going to be putting pressure on them to switch to this, switch to that. Because of how he approaches it, we appreciate his feedback even more when he does give it.

“I know Strommy is into (spin rates). I don’t follow too much of that stuff, and I don’t go out of my way to ask about it, but I do find it intriguing. I know that Collin McHugh’s curveball is pretty good. Outside of that, I guess I don’t know too much.”

On his emergence as an All-Star pitcher: “I’m very confident. That’s the way I’ve always been. People ask me, ‘Does this surprise you?’ I say ‘No,’ because I’ve always envisioned it. I’ve always been the hardest worker I can, and I expect to have success.

“I’m the exact same guy I’ve been, I just have better location this year. I thought I had a pretty good season last year. I’m a year older and a year wiser, and my command has gotten better. It’s all about repetitions.

“I treat my bullpens more work-like than I do games. The heat of competition in a game is more fun than throwing a bullpen with nobody up there with a bat. I treat the four days in between my starts like work. I look at like at it kind of like a regular job. The four days in between are the work week, and my weekends are when I get to pitch and have fun.”

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Strom on Keuchel: “I try to stay out of his way. We did some work when I first joined this organization, and we seem to click, but the last thing I want to do is upset the apple cart. He’s pretty hard on himself in terms of how he performs, and he’s going to do everything he can to be successful. He has tremendous preparation and a tremendous feel for pitching. There are times he gets a little out of whack and I’ll make a suggestion, but the applause he’s getting is on him. The year he’s having is phenomenal.

“One thing that helps him is that he throws so many strikes. Hitters are always in swing mode against him, therefore he can work the edges and off the edges. He gets a ton of ground balls. I don’t think his slider has ungodly Steve Carlton spin, or anything like that, but it’s enough to keep people honest.

“I don’t know his spin rate off the top of my head. I’d have to look it up. I remember Adam Wainwright was at 2,500 with his curveball. Jake Westbrook, when he was with the Cardinals, his sinker was 1,900. Less rotation is more sink. More rotation is more lift. I’m not sure what (Keuchel’s) is, but I’m sure it’s in the realm off what good sinkers are.

“He knows how to change speeds. He understands hitters and hitters’ tendencies. He throws strikes that become balls and he throws pitches that look like balls but becomes strikes. He makes batters hit the ball the way he wants them to hit it. That’s his bottom line. He has an in-game feel that’s unreal.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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djmax101
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djmax101

Very interesting to hear that Keuchel actively wants contact as opposed to strikeouts in most situations. It fits his general profile, but still somewhat surprising to hear.

Jetsy Extrano
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Jetsy Extrano

I wonder if it’s really true once he — by accident — lands in a two-strike count. Because once he’s there, a ball in play has a 25-30% chance of failing to get the out; the mid guarantees the out.

Jetsy Extrano
Guest
Jetsy Extrano

*miss

Wish there were an edit.

tz
Guest
tz

For the average pitcher in 2014, here are the changes in run value if you get a swing and a miss:

After 0 strikes: -.06
After 1 strike: -.07
After 2 strikes: -.19

With the average groundball being worth about -.09 runs, it makes total sense that Keuchel wants grounders with less than 2 strikes (especially since his grounders are even less likely to be productive).

But with 2 strikes, if he can get a swing and a miss, I agree it’s a much better outcome than a grounder.

Ghost
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Ghost

I think that once he lands in a two-strike count he goes for the strikeout.

His slider is his swing and miss pitch, generating whiffs 20.25% of the time.

And he throws his slider 45% of the time he is ahead.

Ghost
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Ghost

Hyperlinks didn’t work. The source is Brooks Baseball. http://www.brooksbaseball.net/landing.php?player=572971