It’s an understatement to say Dallas Keuchel had a memorable 2015. Keuchel was a twenty-game winner in the Major Leagues, started the All-Star Game, made his inaugural appearance in the play-offs with the Houston Astros, and to top it all off, was the recipient of the American League Cy Young award.
We’re still in the very early stages of the 2016 season, and it would be foolish to draw any serious conclusions at a time when Houston have played less than six percent of their games. As an Astros fan, I should be clear that this article is not intended to be used as a prediction as to how the season may pan out. The only purpose this particular piece serves is to answer a topic raised by esteemed broadcasters Bill Brown and Alan Ashby during the broadcast on Sunday’s game at Milwaukee – had Dallas Keuchel struggled as much in any first inning of 2015, as he did at Miller Park on Sunday?
Brownie and Ash stated they couldn’t recall a time last season where Keuchel had thrown the number of pitches he tossed in the first inning against the Brewers. Keuchel threw 38 pitches in the opening inning on Sunday, giving up two runs that would ultimately contribute to a losing effort, with Milwaukee winning 3-2.
The below chart shows Keuchel’s 2015 first inning performances in terms of pitch count:
Keuchel did not throw more than 33 pitches in an opening inning last season (a no-decision against Baltimore on 4th June). In fact, Keuchel only threw 30 or over on three occasions – the aforementioned Baltimore start, and then in two crucial September starts against Texas (throwing 31 in a losing effort on 16th September, and then exactly 30 in a huge victory for the Astros eleven days later). So Brownie and Ash were correct – 38 was definitely more than he’d thrown at any stage in a first inning in 2015.
One interesting point to note when reviewing last year’s statistics is how Houston’s rivals in the AL West looked to make Keuchel work in the first inning. Aside from Baltimore (skewed by the 33 pitch first inning mentioned previously), the next three teams with the highest average first inning pitch counts against Keuchel were the Los Angeles Angels (20.5), Texas (19.4) and Oakland (19). This is in stark contrast with the Chicago White Sox (in the AL Central); Keuchel made two starts against them last season, and only made thirteen pitches combined in the first inning of both games.
What can we conclude from this? Very little, in all probability; Keuchel is the sort of pitcher who hitters will look to work counts against, and he doesn’t really possess the overpowering stuff of other star pitchers in the game. His stamina means that even if he does have a lengthy first inning, he is still able to recover and go deep into the ballgame (Keuchel still pitched well into the sixth inning on Sunday, albeit he hampered himself by issuing six walks). And it would appear there is little correlation between Keuchel’s win-loss record and the number of pitches he throws in the first inning.
Perhaps all we can conclude, then, is that the memory recall of the Houston Astros broadcast team is in fine fettle. Not that it was ever in doubt.